Albanian woman jailed as texts reveal how she helped smugglers get people across Channel

A woman who had been helping smugglers get people across the Channel has been jailed for seven-and-a-half-years.

Ujeza Kurmekaj, 32, from Albania, was arrested at her home in Banbury, Oxfordshire, in October 2022.

An investigation found hundreds of messages on her phone, which suggested she was linking up smugglers with people wanting to cross into the UK.

Speaking to contacts in France, Kurmekaj explained who they should collect and where, with messages including "we have here one family, man wife one child", accompanied by a pin showing where to pick them up.

Other messages read "family one 3 women children 14 17 12 years old" and "very bad sea".

There were also discussions with individuals where she made arrangements for their families to cross.

Her phone also contained 21 images of Albanian IDs and passports, which, when checked, showed nine of the individuals they belonged to had arrived in the UK via a small boat.

Kurmekaj pleaded guilty to charges of facilitating illegal immigration on 3 November at Oxford Crown Court.

Once her jail term is up, she will be deported to Albania.

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Andy MacGill, National Crime Agency senior investigating officer, 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."