Spanish police have arrested seven individuals on suspicion of running a large-scale migrant smuggling operation.
The individuals arrested were part of an organised crime group which is thought to have enabled the illegal entry into Spain of up to 300 irregular migrants, as part of a large-scale migrant smuggling operation which stretched from Francophone countries in Africa to France itself.
Migrants are thought to have been smuggled from a number of countries, including:
- Senegal; and
- Côte d’Ivoire.
They were carried from their countries of origin by boat, and ferried to Spain, where, once on the mainland, they were brought to migrant welfare centres.
From there, migrants would make contact with gang members, who would arrange for them to be transported to safe houses across the country and provide them with falsified documents. Once the migrants had safely entered Spain, the group arranged for them to be transported to France, their ultimate destination.
How did Europol support the investigation and arrests?
The group came under investigation in January, following observations of a suspicious meeting by Spanish police. In an operation co-ordinated by Europol, six members of the gang were arrested in Guipuzcoa, in Northern Spain, and eight migrants – waiting to be smuggled into France – were rescued from a safe house in the city. A seventh and final suspect was arrested in Madrid.
The group came under investigation while operating out of San Sebastian, Spain. Europol provided in-house analytical capabilities, and sent an expert to San Sebastian with a mobile office and universal forensic extraction device, to aid in the gathering of vital evidence.
In early 2016, Europol established the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, which focuses on geographical criminal hotspots and aims to build the capacity of European member states to respond to the challenges of irregular migration, and to strengthen the ability of states to launch a co-ordinated response to the problem.