Police forces from five European countries are claiming to have jointly smashed a people-smuggling ring in the biggest-ever operation of its kind. Most of the 53 people arrested were in Italy, Britain and France – a handful were detained in Greece and Turkey. At a press conference, Italian police said thousands of illegal immigrants had been smuggled into Italy before being moved on to France and Britain. They claim the ringleader of the gang was a 30-year-old Iraqi Kurd who coordinated the trafficking from Rome. A prosecutor said the three-year-long investigation had focused on call centres and money transfer businesses. He said the migrants were mainly Iraqi Kurds who had paid between 7,500 and 15,000 euros for their illegal journeys. The gang had made millions, he said. Thousands of illegal immigrants arrive in Italy each year, most in dangerously overcrowded boats that have set out from north Africa. Hundreds die trying to make the crossing.