19 arrests for smuggling migrants within the EU

An investigation led by the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional), supported by Europol and involving the German Federal Police (Bundespolizei) led to the dismantling of an organised crime group facilitating the secondary movements of irregular migrants from Spain to Germany and Norway. The criminal group is part of a larger network involved in the smuggling of Syrian nationals via the route Syria – Sudan/UAE – Libya – Algeria – Spain, which the Spanish National Police took down earlier in 2023.

The action day on 20 June led to:

  • 19 arrests (16 Syrian and 3 Moroccan nationals)
  • 7 locations searched
  • Multiples seizures including 5 vehicles, mobile and storage devices (smartphones, computers, memory sticks), about EUR 10 000 in cash and various documents

At least 550 migrants smuggled from Syria

In June 2022, Spanish authorities initiated an investigation into this criminal group, which was based in the provinces of Toledo and Cuenca. The criminal organisation facilitated the transportation of irregular migrants from the coasts of Almeria and Murcia to the area surrounding Madrid, accommodating them in seven locations they used for this purpose. The suspects kept these locations in unsanitary conditions, putting migrants’ health at risk from their clandestine entry into Spain until their departure towards their final destination via land or air.

The suspects facilitated the transferral of migrants to Madrid – Barajas airport, while arranging tickets to destinations in Western and Northern Europe, mainly Germany and Norway. The criminal network is suspected of organising over 68 illegal transfers, and the consequent smuggling of more than 550 Syrian migrants into the EU.

Up to EUR 20 000 per person for the full journey

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. The close-knit network would transfer migrants between local traffickers from one country to another, while arranging the collection and distribution of the criminal profits using the hawala underground banking system. The total price for the journey from Syria to the final European destination totalled more than EUR 20 000. The prices per leg of the smuggling route were as follows:

  • EUR 4 000 from Beirut, Lebanon to Egypt via plane;
  • EUR 3 500 from Egypt via Libya and Tunis to Algeria via land;
  • EUR 10 000 from the Algerian Oran y Mostaganem coast to the Spanish coasts of Almeria and Murcia via sea, and then via land to Madrid, Cuanca and Toledo;
  • between EUR 1 000 and EUR 2 000 from Spain to Germany and Norway.

Europol’s role

Europol facilitated the exchange of information, and provided operational coordination and analytical support. A large part of the operational analysis was developed in the framework of the Information Clearing House, created to enhance the intelligence picture on organised migrant smuggling from source and transit countries.

During the action day, Europol deployed an analyst to Spain to enable the real-time exchange of information and cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases to provide leads to investigators in the field. Following the actions, Europol provided extensive forensic support to the Spanish authorities to analyse the new data collected during the operational actions. Europol facilitated also the deployment of German officers on the spot to facilitate appropriate data collection and the exchange of evidence.