In a major international operation, law enforcement agencies from Greece and Belgium, with support from Europol and Eurojust, have successfully dismantled a criminal organization engaged in the illegal transport of migrants from Athens to Northern Europe. The operation, conducted recently, resulted in the arrest of 11 individuals, with eight apprehended in Belgium, two in Greece, and one in Sweden. Additionally, 16 search warrants were executed, with 12 in Belgium and four in Greece.
During the operation, authorities raided two travel agencies in Athens, leading to the seizure of various items, including phones, electronic devices, digital evidence, two boxes containing forged passports, and a substantial amount of nearly €200,000 in cash.
Europol provided insights into the activities of the criminal network, revealing that the organization, operational since January of the previous year, predominantly comprised Egyptian and Syrian nationals. The criminal enterprise specialized in orchestrating illegal secondary migrations from Greece to Northern Europe, with a particular focus on Norway, using Belgium as a crucial transit point.
The criminal network employed a sophisticated strategy, combining the use of legitimate travel agencies and collaboration with counterfeiters to provide fraudulent travel identification documents. Specifically, the smugglers arranged for irregular migrants to travel from Athens to Brussels Airport Zaventem and Brussels South Gosselies. Notably, migrants used genuine passports, engaging in a form of 'look-alike' document fraud. After arriving in Brussels, the criminal network expanded its services by providing migrants with forged Romanian or Bulgarian travel documents.
The migrants, following the initial transit, continued their journey, either directly or through Sweden, ultimately reaching Norway. To facilitate this, one member of the criminal network would escort groups of migrants to Brussels before returning to Athens.
Europol highlighted that migrants, utilizing the underground Hawala banking system, paid a minimum of €5,000 to €6,000 per person. The amount varied based on the quality of the forged documents and additional services related to smuggling.
Recognizing the transnational nature of such criminal activities, Eurojust took action in May 2023 by establishing a joint investigative team involving Belgium, Greece, and Europol. This collaborative effort aimed to enhance judicial cooperation and improve investigative processes.
This operation stands as a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to combat illegal migrant smuggling, showcasing the effectiveness of international cooperation in addressing the challenges posed by transnational criminal networks involved in such activities. The successful outcomes of recent operations underscore the importance of a coordinated approach to ensure the security and integrity of migration processes across borders.
By fLEXI tEAM