The Spanish National Police and German Federal Police have made 19 more arrests as part of their investigations into a human smuggling ring for “VIP” irregular migrants who were paying €20,000 each for a circuitous route from Syria to northern Europe.
According to the EU’s law enforcement agency, the ring is believed to have smuggled 550 Syrian migrants into the EU through what it described as a “VIP” service.
In all, Spanish police have detained 16 Syrians and three Moroccans believed to be part of a larger criminal network that smuggled Syrians through Sudan, Libya and Algeria. From Algeria, they were taken across the Mediterranean on high-speed boats to Spain and then onward to northern Europe.
The network would transfer migrants between traffickers as they travelled from one country to the next. Payments and profits were collected and distributed through the Hawala underground banking system.
According to Europol, “The criminal group was closely connected to other migrant smuggling cells facilitating smuggling from Asia and Africa towards Europe.
“This interconnection, revealed over the course of the investigation, illustrates the international scale of an intercontinental migrant smuggling network active across Asia, Africa and Europe.”
Europol said the total price being charged from Syria to “the final European destination” was €20,000.
Europol even listed out the prices per leg of the smuggling route: €4,000 from Beirut, Lebanon to Egypt by plane; €3,500 from Egypt to Algeria by land through Libya and Tunisia; €10,000 from the Algerian Oran y Mostaganem coast to the Spanish coasts of Almeria and Murcia by sea, and then by land to Madrid, Cuenca and Toledo; between €1,000 and €2,000 from Spain to Germany and Norway.
The criminal group is part of a larger network involved in the smuggling of Syrians via the Sudan/UAE–Libya–Algeria-Spain route that the Spanish National Police had taken earlier this year.
In Libya, Europol says “the smugglers used corrupt officials to facilitate the transfer to Algeria, from where the migrants were transported to Spain on high-speed boats”.
In Europe, Europol says members of the criminal network based in Belgium, Germany and Spain coordinated the sea crossings and facilitated the secondary movements to the destination countries.
The ‘VIP service’, as it was described by Europol, and its €20,000 price tag included special extras such as a transfer from the arrival point on the Spanish mainland as well as accommodation in Spain.
The smuggling ring also implemented stringent security measures to ensure the successful outcome of its illegal operations.
The suspects had even placed physical and video surveillance at several clandestine points along the coast where the irregular migrants were expected to be brought in.
Europol said the “VIP service” included a transfer from the point of arrival on the Spanish mainland and accommodation, and that the trip took an “unusually long and expensive route”.
In Libya, the smugglers allegedly used corrupt officials to arrange the transfer to Algeria, where the migrants were transported to Spain on high-speed boats.
“The criminal network implemented stringent security measures to ensure the successful outcome of its illegal operations,” the agency said.
The investigation revealed that the criminal network, which Europol believes has possibly been active since 2017, was involved in a wide range of illegal activities including migrant smuggling and the trafficking of drugs and firearms.