Human trafficking and migrant smuggling: more than 1,000 arrests in joint INTERPOL-AFRIPOL operation

INTERPOL and AFRIPOL’s first joint operation against human trafficking and migrant smuggling resulted in more than 1,000 arrests worldwide and thousands of victims detected.

Coordinated with the participation of law enforcement in 54 countries, operation “FLASH-WEKA” took place in two phases between May and June to dismantle the organized crime networks behind human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Africa and beyond.

Using INTERPOL’s global criminal databases, local law enforcement worked with INTERPOL and AFRIPOL to locate, intercept and stop criminals operating across borders.

FLASH-WEKA results at a glance

  • total arrests: 1,062
  • irregular migrants detected: 2,731
  • human trafficking victims identified: 823
  • criminal merchandise seized: 801 (stolen firearms, vehicles etc.)
  • associated investigations triggered: 197

“Human trafficking and migrant smuggling are often part of a wider and more complex criminal chain. This is why close cooperation between INTERPOL and AFRIPOL is so important in uniting our resources to dismantle these networks and ultimately identify and rescue thousands of unsuspecting victims,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock.

“The leads generated by Operation FLASH-WEKA will no doubt result in further arrests, bringing to justice those who traffic in human misery,” added Secretary General Stock.

Widespread trafficking across West Africa

FLASH-WEKA revealed an increase in online recruitment through e-commerce platforms such as Q.Net, with networks identified in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Mali.

Police in Yaoundé rescued victims involved in a Q.Net pyramid scheme, detaining the suspected perpetrators at Cameroon’s INTERPOL National Central Bureau Command Post where investigations are ongoing.

Intelligence received in Sierra Leone via INTERPOL triggered a police raid rescuing 15 suspected trafficking victims, all men from Sri Lanka.

During a raid in a hotel in Lomé, Togo authorities rescued 30 victims of human trafficking recruited in Nigeria for sexual exploitation.

Two cases of sports-related human trafficking were detected in two countries where recruiters had lured victims to Gulf countries with false promises of registration with football academies.

“The real strength of FLASH-WEKA lies in the tight union between our two Organizations and member countries which together form a formidable alliance against the forces of darkness that exploit people’s hopes and aspirations,” said AFRIPOL Executive Director Jalel Chelba.

“Through better intelligence sharing, collaborative efforts by law enforcement agencies and comprehensive victim support, we aim to dismantle the networks that profit from the desperation of others. We will bring light to the shadows, uncovering hidden routes and bringing perpetrators to justice,” added Mr Chelba.

Preventing the Mediterranean crossing

Sahel operations focused on the prevention of migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean towards Europe.

Eight Moroccan men were detected with a rubber boat and life jackets preparing for an illegal crossing to Spain.

In Tunisia, investigations into a damaged boat discovered 80 miles off the coast of Kerkennah revealed the vessel had capsized between Italy and Libya with 59 passengers on board, including children, from a wide range of countries including Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan and Syria.

Beyond Africa

Many of the cases detected during FLASH-WEKA involved victims from Asia, particularly Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In Angola seven Vietnamese women recruited online with promises of work in hotels and beauty salons were rescued from their trafficker, also from Vietnam, who forced them to work in the sex industry.

Authorities in Iraq arrested nine suspects thought to be involved in organ trafficking cases.

Syrian police rescued an underage girl and arrested two men for her suspected trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Confirming the severity of a growing global trend, Operation FLASH-WEKA unveiled several cases of large-scale human trafficking involving victims who would start online jobs and end up forced to commit cyber-enabled financial crime on an industrial scale.

A collaborative operation

INTERPOL’s Regional Bureaus in Harare, Abidjan and Yaoundé each hosted an Operational Coordination Unit during the operation, with round-the-clock support from the Organization’s Command and Coordination Centre.

INTERPOL and AFRIPOL officials were deployed into the field to support local law enforcement in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Seychelles.

FLASH-WEKA is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, the European Commission, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Other organizations supporting FLASH-WEKA include Europol, IOM and ROCK (Regional Operational Center in Khartoum in support of the Khartoum Process and AU-Horn of Africa initiative).

The operation was coordinated with the help of INTERPOL’s Support Programme for the African Union which assists AFRIPOL in developing its strategic framework and operational functions across the continent.