111 potential victims of trafficking identified
The second pan-European operation to combat the trafficking of human beings from West Africa was carried out by law enforcement authorities in fifteen European countries on the 11th of June 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 673 persons, mainly women from West African countries, were checked. 111 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, 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, The Netherlands, 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. In Ireland, ports were also subjected to police checks. In addition, two countries – Italy and France – have supported the participating countries with cross-checks against their national databases, Italy also deploying one Europol's Liaison Officer in the Operation Room during the operation. The activity of the United Kingdom was focussed upon transit routes, principally into the UK and outbound to other European destinations, and supporting the other participating countries with live time intelligence support. In some countries – Netherlands, Norway - the assistance of the national Financial Intelligence Units (FIU) was also provided. The objective was to identify people trafficked from Western Africa, and 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.