Migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria were charged up to EUR 7 000 each to be smuggled into the European Union by a criminal gang. The organised crime group, coordinated by a Pakistani national with the aid of Romanian and other nationals, had been operating since July 2016 and was illegally transporting migrants in cars, vans and lorries to the EU via the Balkan route.
Austrian and Romanian law enforcement authorities arrested 10 suspects from the criminal group in simultaneous operations on 9 April: 19 premises were searched in Romania and 5 premises and a vehicle were searched in Austria. Cash, documents and mobile phones were seized on the Joint Action Day coordinated by Eurojust and Europol.
It is believed that the same network is behind the smuggling of more than 180 migrants into and within the EU. In April 2017 members of the criminal group were intercepted in Nădlac at the Romanian-Hungarian border smuggling 111 migrants, of which 42 were children. So far in 2018 law enforcement authorities have intercepted 21 illegal cross-border activities, finding 17 migrants per search on average.
The organised crime group was highly structured and suspects had defined roles and responsibilities, such as finding prospective migrants at asylum centres, housing then transferring them to EU border areas, purchasing vehicles and recruiting drivers. The group would then transport the migrants mainly to Austria and Germany, but also to France and Italy.
Europol coordinated the investigation, which was part of an operational task force and received support from Slovenia and Eurojust, which offered judicial cooperation as part of a Joint Investigation Team.
Illegal cross-border activities in Europe
People smugglers are using green borders less and less (through a forest or field for example), as border control mechanisms have been ramped up in the Balkan countries, at external EU borders and in the Schengen area. Smugglers now opt for different means of transportation, such as lorries.
Under the umbrella of EMPACT (European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats), several European Member States and partner countries have launched investigative actions against organised crime group which facilitate illegal immigration by transporting irregular migrants clandestinely – mainly via the Balkan route. The methods used by the criminal gangs pose a considerable threat to the lives and wellbeing of migrants.