Yesterday, 29 January 2013, a total of 103 persons suspected of being part of a people-smuggling network were arrested throughout Europe. 10 European countries and EULEX (European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo) were involved in the common action supported and coordinated by Europol.
In the early hours the suspects were arrested in Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Slovak Republic, Turkey and Kosovo region. Other coercive measures were carried out in Switzerland; Austria also supported the common action.
All arrested persons are suspected of being involved in the clandestine smuggling of a large number of irregular migrants into and within the European Union mainly via Turkey and the Western Balkan region.
The irregular migrants were recruited mainly in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Turkey by the criminal network, which was using various modi operandi to smuggle them into and within the EU. The migrants were often smuggled in inhuman and dangerous conditions, such as in very small hidden compartments in the floor of buses or trucks, in freight trains or on boats. In some cases falsified travel documents were used by the migrants. Marriages of convenience were also used as a modus operandi to regularise their status in the EU.
This is one of the largest co-ordinated actions against people smugglers made at a European level, involving more than 1200 police officers.
In total 117 house searches and searches of other properties were carried out. During the searches, mobile telephones, laptops, bank statements, a semi-automatic rifle with a large amount of ammunition and more than 176 500 EUR in cash were seized.
In September 2011 Austria and Hungary launched a joint response to the significant increase in illegal immigration into their countries by establishing Project FIMATHU (Facilitated Illegal Immigration Affecting Austria and Hungary). As a result, over 7.500 irregular migrants have been apprehended and 891 smuggling incidents identified in total in the two countries. The successful results have meant that interest in the project has grown and there are 10 new members of the project, namely: Bulgaria; Croatia; Czech Republic; Germany; Poland; Romania; Serbia; Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland. Recently Bosnia and Herzegovina and EULEX have also been invited to join the project. The common goal of the Project FIMATHU is to disrupt and dismantle the illegal immigration networks operating via the Western Balkans as well as in other European countries.
Europol supported the investigations by facilitating the information exchange amongst the respective countries and by providing operational analysis and other operational support throughout the investigation. Within the Project FIMATHU all relevant criminal intelligence has been shared with Europol, including data extracted from over 500 seized mobile phones. Europol has been processing and analysing the data to find important links between Austria, Hungary and the source and transit countries, and to identify the criminal networks organising the illegal immigration.
During the common action day Europol deployed one mobile office to Germany to support the operation with on-the-spot analysis. The International Coordination Centre was set up at Europol and was staffed by senior investigators from those countries in which arrests took place to coordinate the pan-European action and to conduct cross-checking and provide analysis of the data generated.