French, British Cops Bust People Smuggling Ring

The Prefecture of Police in Paris. Photo: Jean-Marie Hullot, flickr

The Prefecture of Police in Paris.
Photo: Jean-Marie Hullot, flickr

Europol announced on May 22 that it had arrested 18 people in France and the UK for allegedly running a human trafficking ring smuggling South Asian immigrants into Britain.

11 suspects were arrested in Britain, and seven more were arrested in France. All but one were Sri Lankan nationals. The other suspect is reportedly a 41-year-old Dutch citizen, who was arrested in the UK.

German police also raided the homes of several suspected logistical managers. No arrests in Germany have been reported yet.

The investigation into the ring was massive, involving cooperation between Europol and French, British, and German police agencies. Last week’s coordinated early morning raids, besides leading to the arrests, yielded “a significant amount” of cash along with computers, documents, and cell phones.

“People smuggling is an international crime which requires international cooperation, and the arrests made today show that cooperation is yielding results,” said Rob Allen of the British Home Office.

Unraveling human trafficking rings tends to be a long, tortuous process, and this case appears to be no exception. The network operated on a vast international scale, smuggling immigrants through at least four European countries.

According to the French Prefecture of Police, the ring’s clients entered Europe through Italy from North Africa, using stolen or forged papers. Once in continental Europe, the immigrants were smuggled inside vehicles across the English Channel, mainly from French ports but also from Germany.

Police did not report which North African countries the smugglers operated in. It is likewise unknown how many stages of the journey there were between Sri Lanka and North Africa.

Some of the immigrants are said to have travelled on to the United States with forged documents.

The ring reportedly charged around 5,000 euros ($6,465) per person for the entire process, including travel documents.

In a press release, French police said that the ring’s methods of smuggling—particularly the use of secret compartments in cars—were “contrary to human dignity.”

The investigation began in France in 2011 with a probe into organized crime. French police investigating criminal conspiracy uncovered mob links to forgery and human trafficking. A coordinated international investigation with Britain, Germany, Europol, and Eurojust began in December 2012.

French police said that the ring operated on a massive scale, and that it took several months of close teamwork to identify and locate all of the suspects.

The seven arrested in France are accused of having forged the travel documents that the ring’s clients used to enter the UK.

According to officials, the investigation is ongoing. It is hoped that the phones and computers seized will help police uncover more of the network.

Stopping people smuggling is a major law enforcement objective in Europe, particularly in wealthy Western European countries like France.

For some, the arduous trip from East to West is one they choose to make. In cases such as this, immigrants pay huge sums of money and endure great—sometimes fatal—misery, with the hope of a better life at the end in Europe or North America.

But not all people smugglers deal in willing cargo. In many cases, human trafficking essentially operates as a modern slave trade.

In 2008, a study reported that roughly 12.3 million people worldwide had been trafficked. In the same year, the US Department of State estimated that 2 million children worldwide were being exploited by human traffickers.

Earlier this month, a brothel owner in Switzerland was accused of brutally mistreating his workers. Most of his alleged victims were young women from Romania who had entered Switzerland on tourist visas.

According to Interpol’s French website, human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry. Its victims are primarily used for sexual slavery, manual labor, and organ harvesting.

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