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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Hit On Migrant Smuggling Ring Results In 29 Arrests

An international law enforcement operation against migrant smuggling and human trafficking coordinated by Europol has led to the arrest of 29 suspected migrant smugglers. Those arrested are thought to be part of an organized crime network responsible for facilitating deadly journeys for Pakistani migrants across the Mediterranean Sea, as well as labor exploitation.

The international joint action at the end of October saw the participation of 365 police officers from Spain and Poland who carried out 60 inspections of restaurants run by members of the criminal network and 51 house searches, in both Spain (23) and Poland (28). A large amount of evidence was seized including documentation, equipment used for preparing forged documents, and communication devices.

Europol’s Joint Operational Team (JOT) provided assistance to the Guardia Civil, Spanish National Police and the Polish Border Guard during the operation, known as Shafat-Turkeba. The work targeted a Pakistani organized crime group which was involved in facilitating the irregular migration of Pakistani citizens to the EU using Mediterranean Sea routes (Libya-Italy and Turkey-Greece) and, for those that survived the crossings, their further labor exploitation in restaurants throughout Spain.

The long-running investigation began when Spanish law enforcement authorities learned the existence of a criminal network that was exploiting Pakistani migrants in semi-slavery conditions in Pakistani-run kebab restaurants. The irregular migrants received no salary, holidays or social security benefits, and were working long shifts under abusive conditions. This labor exploitation was the way in which the migrants had to pay back their debts to the criminal network for the journeys they had undertaken from Pakistan, and the forged or fake passports and ID cards they had been supplied with.

Europol stated the migrants, who were treated like "goods," paid around EUR 14,000 each to the criminal network for transport to Europe. In return, the facilitators offered them places in often unseaworthy boats travelling across the Mediterranean. The criminal syndicate offered "packages" to the migrants, which involved using forged documents to apply for residence permits, to register at the relevant city hall and to claim social security benefits. Residence permit applications were often linked to fake job offers, to work for the kebab restaurants in Spain.

Investigators became aware of one of several routes and modus operandi used by the criminal network and an incident in August of a migrant dying while confined in inhumane conditions in a ship’s hold. The identified ship and surviving migrants were consequently rescued by the Italian Navy. However more than 40 people had died in the same hold when they were overcome by engine fumes after the boat sprung a leak as a result of its poor condition. These victims had paid half the fee of those traveling on deck but were packed into a space that had no access to ventilation or toilets.

Some of the profits earned by the criminal organization were invested in opening new restaurants in different Spanish provinces, which were also used for the further labor exploitation of migrants. The remaining illegal profits were sent back to Pakistan through money wires, impersonating the identities of the exploited migrants without their consent.

This Spanish arm of the criminal organization was in close contact with another part of the gang based in Poland. The group used a network of companies to fraudulently obtain work and residence permits by submitting fraudulent documents and statements. On October 24, the Polish Border Guards searched 28 premises. Six motor vehicles were seized and 60 foreign nationals had the legality of their stays checked; three of them were consequently arrested.

Europol’s analytical support resulted in the identification of links between this criminal group and previously-investigated organized criminal groups involved in the same criminal acts in Spain, using a similar modus operandi. Links made with other ongoing EU cases will be further explored as a result of the operation.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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