The third pan-European operation to combat the trafficking of human beings from West Africa was carried out by law enforcement authorities in sixteen European countries on the 28th of April and lasted until early morning of the following day. The operation was aimed at targeting Nigerian criminal networks operating across Europe for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
According to provisional figures, more than 1000 persons, mainly women from West African countries were checked. Over 400 potential victims of trafficking (mostly women from Nigeria) were identified. Via cross-checks at the Europol headquarters, more than 30 persons were found to have links to criminal structures. As a result of the day of action, new investigations have been launched in several participating countries with Europol's support.
The operation was led by Germany's Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) and coordinated by Europol and Europol's Liaison Officers from the participating Member States and third countries, acting together from Europol's Operations Room in The Hague, the Netherlands. As part of the operation, places of prostitution were checked in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Czech Republic, Norway, and Switzerland, while intensive checks were also conducted at major international airports in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Portugal as locations assessed to be potential nexus-points or destination ports for victims of trafficking originating from Western Africa, and therefore addressing the threat from direct and transit hubs. Additional to these checks in Europe active support was given by the Joint Border Task Force in Nigeria who conducted additional checks at Lagos Airport. The objective of all these activities was to identify people trafficked from Western Africa, and to increase the intelligence picture on the human traffickers involved. The results submitted by the countries involved are being analysed by Europol to help identify key figures in international human trafficking networks in Europe and to establish crime patterns as well as possible criminal organisational structures.
For years, European police forces have been closely monitoring the trafficking of women from West Africa to the EU for sexual exploitation. Investigations show the existence of organised crime groups (OCGs) from West Africa highly networked which embrace exploiters, facilitators, trafficked women handed over to the forced prostitution market, money launderers, and persons involved in the forging of travel documents and Visas. After being recruited in their home countries, the victims are trafficked to Europe and sent to work in brothels or in the street with forged identity documents. The continuous shifting of exploited victims within the EU is commonly noticed. Traffickers use voodoo rituals, which are commonly practised in West Africa, as an effective mean of exerting pressure on their victims, to intimidate them, and ensure obedience; this practice enables the perpetrators to make the exploited women paying off their debts (which can be up to 60.000 Euros) incurred as a result of their trafficking to Europe. In this context, increased police checks continue to play an important role in the identification of victims of human trafficking and the associated shedding of light on previously undetected crime.