Authorities in the Balkans have dealt a blow to organized crime groups by arresting 72 suspected traffickers and 167 migrant smugglers in an INTERPOL-led operation.
Codenamed Theseus, the operation saw 3,000 officers from immigration, justice and specialized units dispatched to hotspots including border points, train and bus stations and entertainment districts. From there, they monitored 1,500 flights, carried out 2.5 million passenger checks and 54,000 vehicle checks.
The trafficking victims, who were from 14 different countries, were found working in precarious conditions of sexual exploitation, forced labour and forced begging. Social services and victim assistance were provided to all those rescued.
More than 1,500 fraudulent passports and national ID cards were seized, pointing to the strong reliance organized crime groups have on illegal documents in order to transport individuals from one country to another.
Authorities also confiscated nautical equipment including 30 smuggling vessels, 200 inflatable boats and buoys.
With human trafficking and people smuggling linked to a number of other crimes, reinforced border controls led to the recovery of 10 firearms, 60kg of drugs and cash worth USD 200,000.
“Organized crime groups prey on the vulnerable and help them cross borders illegally for hefty sums. For some, the relationship ends on arrival but for others, it is only just the beginning of a bleak future of exploitation,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock.
“INTERPOL’s role is to help police identify and break the networks behind this traffic and ensure their activities become more risky and less lucrative,” concluded the INTERPOL Chief.
The INTERPOL General Secretariat hosted the Operational Coordination Unit, where officers from each participating country were dispatched to liaise with their national teams in the field and maximize use of INTERPOL’s capabilities.
42 persons of interest were located during the operation thanks to INTERPOL Notices, and eight new notices were published as a result of investigations triggered by the operational results.
With several investigations ongoing, INTERPOL will continue to follow up and provide support to participating countries.
Operation Theseus was carried out under the umbrella of the INTERPOL Project to Combat Human Trafficking in the Balkans, financed by the German Federal Foreign Office.