Major people trafficking ring from Turkey to Greece smashed: Europol
AA PhotoPolice raids across Greece last week smashed an international people trafficking ring that made $8 million in profit from smuggling Syrian migrants via maritime routes from Turkey to Greece, resulting in the arrest of 16 suspects, officials said late on March 17.
The group also smuggled victims from Greece to other EU Member States through a range of methods, and was involved in the production and distribution of forged travel documents and their trading to other organized criminal groups, Europol said in a written statement.
“This action sends the clear message that Europol and its partners are determined to pursue those responsible for these terrible crimes,” said Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol.
“The events in the Mediterranean Sea emphasize the need for a coordinated approach in targeting these criminal groups. Europol has reinforced its capabilities to support EU Member States’ investigations in this area and has set-up the Joint Operational Team Mare, dedicated to tackling organized criminal groups responsible for the arrival by sea of large numbers of irregular migrants,” Wainwright added.
He said Greek authorities backed by the Netherlands-based Europol dismantled the gang in a two-day sweep last week, the first by a new Europol task force dealing with maritime crime.
Police staged 20 raids across Greece, arresting 16 suspects - including Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian and Romanian nationals - and seizing 280 passports, dozens of mobile phones, computers, vehicles and 64,000 euros ($68,000) in cash, Wainwright stated.
He added that the gang had smuggled 350 people, mostly Syrians, by boat to the Greek islands of Kos and Rhodes, charging as much as 9,000 euros ($9,500) per person,
In 2014, more than 220,000 migrants entered Europe, compared to 60,000 a year earlier, and more than 4,000 have died since 2013 attempting the sea crossing, Wainwright said at a media briefing in The Hague, according to Reuters.
The latest operation served to “reinforce our actions against ... the ruthless criminals who facilitate irregular migration to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Union Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs.
“We are confronted with an unprecedented increase in people embarking on dangerous journeys, to escape wars,” he told reporters, alluding in part to Syria’s civil war, which has displaced about half the country’s population.
The new Europol task force will bring together leading intelligence experts from European countries most affected by illegal migration. Working in The Hague, they will share key data and coordinate actions against human traffickers.