In a joint operation, Europol has supported the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) in dismantling an organized criminal network involved in smuggling migrants from Syria to the European Union.
The investigation, which also involved law enforcement authorities from France, Germany, and Norway, uncovered a network engaged in various illegal activities, including migrant smuggling, drug trafficking, and firearms trafficking. The criminal network, suspected to have been active since 2017, operated across multiple EU and Middle Eastern countries, employing an unusually long and costly route to smuggle irregular migrants from Syria into the EU.
The complex smuggling route initiated in Syria, where irregular migrants were transported via Sudan or the United Arab Emirates to Libya. From Libya, the migrants were further moved to Algeria before embarking on the perilous Mediterranean journey into Europe. The final leg of the journey involved facilitating illegal entry into Spain across the Western Mediterranean. While some migrants remained in Spain, the majority managed to reach French, Belgian, German, and Norwegian shores as their final destination countries.
The extensive operation yielded significant results, with law enforcement agencies executing searches at 13 different locations. As a result, 15 individuals were arrested, and various items were seized, including two speed boats, six vehicles, electronic equipment such as laptops, a tablet, and GPS devices, storage devices, drugs, fuel, 42 cell phones, two satellite phones, over EUR 500,000 in cash, and important documents. The criminal network spanned nine countries, with its infrastructure predominantly established in Lebanon, Sudan, Libya, and Algeria.
Led by a Syrian suspect, the criminal network orchestrated the smuggling of at least 200 migrants through the rarely used migration route from Syria via Sudan or the United Arab Emirates. In Libya, the smugglers relied on corrupt officials to facilitate the transfer to Algeria, from where the migrants were transported to Spain on high-speed boats. Once in Europe, members of the criminal network based in Belgium, Germany, and Spain coordinated the sea crossings and assisted in further transportation to the destination countries. The suspects charged each person between EUR 7,000 and EUR 20,000 for the entire trip.
Notably, the criminal network provided comprehensive logistics for the journey, including transportation arrangements, paperwork assistance in certain countries, flight tickets, and accommodation along the route. They even offered a premium “VIP service” costing up to EUR 20,000, which included additional benefits such as transfers from arrival points in Spain and accommodation within the country.
To ensure the success of their illegal operations, the network implemented stringent security measures, deploying physical and video surveillance at clandestine locations along the coast where irregular migrants were expected to arrive.
Throughout the year-long investigation, Europol played a pivotal role in facilitating information exchange, operational coordination, and analytical support. Multiple operational meetings were organized, and Europol deployed a lead analyst and investigative teams to Spain during the action week, enabling real-time information sharing and cross-checking against Europol’s databases. Following the operation, Europol provided extensive forensic support to Spanish authorities in analyzing the newly collected data.
The operation also leveraged the Information Clearing House, a platform established to enhance the intelligence landscape regarding organized migrant smuggling from source and transit countries. The exchange of criminal intelligence within this framework has led to the discovery of new trends and modi operandi within the migrant smuggling landscape. By sharing intelligence on these trends and incidents detected during the smuggling journey, national investigators gain valuable leads to better understand the extent of criminal activities and the vast geographical reach of such networks.
The successful dismantling of this criminal network demonstrates the importance of international cooperation in combating organized crime, particularly concerning migrant smuggling. Europol’s involvement, along with the collaboration between various law enforcement agencies, has dealt a significant blow to the operations of this network and will contribute to the overall security and safety of the European Union.
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