German, Greek, North Macedonian, Serbian and Spanish police have dismantled a smuggling ring that generated 45 million euros in profit after smuggling thousands of Cuban migrants into the EU via an “unusually long route”, Europol announced on Monday.
Sixty-two alleged smugglers were arrested, suspected of having facilitated the journey of 5,000 migrants from Cuba to Serbia, before taking them to Greece or North Macedonia, then to Spain and Italy, said the European police agency.
Cubans flew to Serbia, exploiting the lack of visa requirements to enter. They were transiting through Frankfurt airport, Europol said, without giving further details.
“Using a variety of routes,” the smugglers then smuggled “large groups of Cuban migrants” from Serbia to Greece and North Macedonia, the agency said in a statement.
They “walked them in the dark without supplies for hours,” the agency said, noting that it is an “unusually long and expensive smuggling route.”
Once in Greece, migrants could either seek asylum there or continue to other European countries. They went mainly to Spain and Italy.
“Criminals would take advantage of the most vulnerable migrants, including minors, and subject them to scams, thefts and extortion,” according to Europol.
“In some cases, women were transferred to other criminal groups for the purpose of sexual exploitation,” added the agency, which coordinated the operation with Interpol.
Members of the network used a “well-known messaging app” to advertise their illicit services to vulnerable customers.
“For a payment of around 9,000 euros, they organized the trip, the transfers and provided false documents,” said Europol, whose headquarters is in The Hague.
Hundreds of forged documents and counterfeit materials were seized, along with 18 properties, 33 vehicles, 144 bank accounts and large sums of money in various currencies.
“The investigation revealed a complex criminal infrastructure set up in many cities of Spain, Greece and Serbia, flexible and able to adapt to changing circumstances in order to maintain their illicit activities,” Europol said.
The investigation was launched in October 2021 when Serbian, Greek, North Macedonian and Finnish authorities reported that an increasing number of Cubans were trying to enter the EU illegally.
“Since the beginning of the war launched by Russia against Ukraine, the route has been changed,” Europol said. Cuban migrants once flew to Russia before crossing the Finnish border or flying to Serbia on their way to various destinations in Europe.
This article is originally published on .lalibre.be