An operation codenamed ‘Frontera Norte’ has allowed Chile’s Criminal Investigations Police (Policía de Investigaciones – PDI) to arrest nine suspected members of a migrant smuggling ring following an investigation supported by INTERPOL and law enforcement across South and Central America.
The arrests took place on 29 September in the city of Arica, in northern Chile close to the Peruvian border. Those detained include four Chileans, two Venezuelans, one Peruvian, one Haitian and one Paraguayan, all of whom will face charges of unlawful association and migrant smuggling.
The ring is suspected of smuggling an estimated 1,000 Haitian migrants from Chile, with Mexico or the United States being the final intended destination.
To date, 267 Chilean children aged six or under – all children of Haitian migrants – have been detected on the irregular migration route to the United States in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama.
Not travelling with their real parents
The investigation began in January 2020, as Chile’s PDI began to receive reports of an abnormal flow of Chilean children of Haitian migrants crossing the border to Peru. Soon, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, border stations in Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama were reporting that large numbers of children of Chilean nationality were stranded, unable to continue their journey to the United States.
That March, Chile contacted INTERPOL’s Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants unit, requesting that member countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean share any relevant information. The resulting data allowed Chilean investigators to compile a list of 185 minors smuggled through Central America by November 2020 – a list that has since grown to include 267 names.
Based on this list – and within the framework of the INTERPOL-coordinated Operation Turquesa II – INTERPOL has issued Yellow Notices (global police alerts to locate missing persons) for each of the 267 children as well as 526 Blue Notices, which request additional information on a specific case, at Chile’s request. Investigators sought to locate the children’s parents and establish whether they were on their way to the United States.
In some cases, it was confirmed that children were not travelling with their real parents and, in other instances, they had been abandoned or their parents had died en route.
Promoted via WhatsApp groups
In the course of the PDI investigation, police identified a transnational criminal network dedicated to promoting and facilitating the irregular travel of Haitian migrants from Chile to the United States.
The facilitators promoted their services through WhatsApp groups and were responsible for transporting the migrants across the Chile-Peru border, after which the migrants began the long land route to the United States. The facilitators operating in Chile also had contacts with migrant smugglers in the other countries on the route.
“It is horrifying to think what these vulnerable children, some just a few years old, have suffered,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock. “The diligence of the Chilean PDI in investigating and dismantling this network, with support from other involved countries via INTERPOL shows what law enforcement cooperation can achieve when information is shared.”
“INTERPOL’s databases and other information-sharing capabilities constituted a key element enabling the PDI to dismantle this international network dedicated to smuggling Haitian migrants to the United States and Mexico,” said PDI Director General Sergio Muñoz Yañez. “During the investigative process carried out by PDI’s Human Trafficking Investigation Brigade – which lasted more than one year – we had the support of law enforcement from different parts of the world, which demonstrates the commitment and support of our peers when there is a common goal such as fighting transnational organized crime”.
In response to migrant smuggling, INTERPOL offers a range of expertise, databases and services to law enforcement officials in source, transit and destination countries, helping to exchange information and coordinate action against smuggling syndicates through the Organization’s 194 member countries.