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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Police across Europe arrested 22 people on Tuesday on suspicion of smuggling some 2,000 immigrants into the European Union, mainly from Iraq, law enforcement organisation Europol said.
Immigration is a sensitive issue in the EU, where voters' fears about security and unemployment clash with business pressure to admit more migrants to counter skills gaps.
Police in France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain made the arrests, Europol said in a statement. The European Commission estimates there are up to 8 million illegal migrants in the EU.
The suspects arrested on Tuesday smuggled people via Turkey to Greece, and then onwards via Italy through Central Europe to Scandinavian countries.
Immigrants paid up to 15,000 euros ($22,350) to travel from Iraq into Europe, said Mikael Jensen, deputy head of Europol's crimes against persons unit.
Smuggling took place in the past two to three years and most of the suspects who were arrested were of Iraqi origins, Jensen said.
In Europe, immigrants paid up to 2,000 euros extra for a trip from Paris to Britain or Sweden, Europol said.
"A trip in a truck cost between 700 and 1,000 euros. A trip in a car (more secure) with a driver is around 2,000 euros," Europol said.
In June last year, Europol and the European prosecution agency Eurojust said they had arrested 75 people and broken up an Iraqi-run network which smuggled immigrants into the continent for fees up to 12,000 euros per person.
During one investigation, 18 immigrants were found hiding in a flour truck. Europol showed a picture with people laying in a tank and exiting it coloured white from flour.
Seven possible illegal immigrants were found during Tuesday's arrests.
The arrest was Europol's third coordinated operation among European police forces since June last year, it said. It said it expects similar operations in the future.
(Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger)