Fixer for small-boat people smugglers jailed for over seven years

Monday, Nov 20, 2023

LONDON: An Albanian woman who acted as a fixer for people smugglers arranging small boat crossings to the UK has been jailed for seven and a half years, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

Ujeza Kurmekaj, 32, facilitated crossings from France for Albanian nationals before her arrest last year as part of an NCA investigation.Hundreds of messages on her phone made clear her “key role” in linking people smugglers with passengers, the agency said.

She sent instructions to contacts in France on who they should pick up, with messages such as “family one 3 women, children 14 17 12 years old” and “we have here one family, man wife one child”.

Other conversations indicated conditions, including “very bad sea”, and map location pins instructing where to pick migrants up or where boats were positioned in the Channel.Further exchanges showed people making contact with her to arrange crossings for their families.

Her phone also contained 21 images of Albanian ID cards and passports which, when checked on immigration systems, showed that nine of the individuals had arrived in the UK by small boat.

She was arrested by NCA officers at her home in Banbury, Oxfordshire, last October before being charged in September with facilitating illegal immigration.

She pleaded guilty to the charge at Oxford Crown Court earlier this month before being sentenced on Friday, and will be deported automatically on her release from prison.

NCA senior investigating officer Andy MacGill said: “Ujeza Kurmekaj played a major role as a broker, linking migrants with people smugglers who could transport them on dangerous journeys across the Channel.

“For this, she would arrange payments of hundreds of euros per person.“Kurmekaj had little interest in the safety and security of the people she was arranging crossings for, only that she and her employers received payment.

“Disrupting and dismantling organised crime groups responsible for people smuggling is a priority for the NCA and we’ll continue to target offenders involved at every step of the journey.”