Law enforcement and judicial authorities from Belgium and France, supported by Europol and Eurojust, have dismantled a large criminal network involved in migrant smuggling.
On May 26, officers from the Belgian Federal Police (Federale Politie/Police Fédérale) and the French Illegal Immigration Agency (OCRIEST) from the French Border Police (Police aux frontières) carried out 27 house searches (15 in the Brussels-Capital Region and 12 in and around Paris). The operational activities led to the arrests of 26 suspected members of the criminal network (13 in Belgium and 13 in France) and the seizure of three vehicles, cash and electronic equipment. In total, 21 irregular migrants were found and put to safety.
The criminal organization is suspected of facilitating the transit of mainly Vietnamese irregular migrants through Belgium and France towards the United Kingdom. The suspects are believed to have hidden their victims before routing them towards their final destination across the English Channel. It is likely that the network has transported up to several dozen people every day for several months. These criminal activities were particularly dangerous due to the life-threatening conditions of transportation. The urgent operational actions were crucial to safeguard particularly vulnerable victims and to arrest suspects at a high risk of fleeing.
The operation tracked the criminal activity of people smuggling across the continent and was prompted by the tragic discovery of 39 deceased Vietnamese nationals inside a refrigerated truck trailer in Essex in the United Kingdom in October 2019.
Europol set up an operational task force (OTF) to facilitate information exchange and coordination between law enforcement authorities investigating the fatal Essex case. The activities of the OTF also contributed to the preparation of the operation.
Europol supported the operation by facilitating information exchange and providing analytical support. On May 26, Europol deployed an expert to France to cross-check in real time operational information against Europol’s databases and provide leads to investigators.
To support national authorities in this high priority investigation, a Joint Investigation Team between Belgium, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Europol and Eurojust was set up in November 2019. Eurojust enabled real-time coordination of the actions to facilitate the operational activities.
The following day, a separate operation arrested eight individuals for smuggling migrants
To the EU via Croatia. In the early hours of May 27, some hundred officers from the Croatian Police (Hrvatska Policija) and the Bosnian State Investigation and Protection Agency (Državna agencija za istrage i zaštitu) with the support of Europol targeted suspected of smuggling migrants from Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Union via Croatia.
Four suspects were arrested in Zagreb and Glina (Croatia), and four in Bihać, Cazin and Velika Kladusa (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
This coordinated sting follows an investigation initiated earlier this year looking into the activities of this organized crime group. It is believed that this network has managed to smuggle some 50 migrants using this route since January 2020.