A joint Greek-Belgian operation, with the support of Europol and Eurojust, successfully dismantled a criminal organisation engaged in the illegal transport of migrants from Athens to Northern Europe.
The operation resulted in the arrest of 11 people in total, of which eight in Belgium, two in Greece, and one in Sweden, and the execution of 16 search warrants, 12 of them in Belgium and four in Greece.
In addition, two travel agencies in Athens were raided, leading to the seizure of phones, electronic devices, digital evidence, two boxes containing forged passports, and a substantial amount of nearly €200,000 in cash.
According to a recent statement issued by Europol, the above-mentioned criminal network has been operating since January of last year, consisting mainly of Egyptian and Syrian nationals, specialising in the orchestration of illegal secondary migrations of individuals from Greece to Northern Europe, with the main focus on Norway, using Belgium as a key transit point.
The suspects used a two-pronged strategy, using legitimate travel agencies to facilitate the transport of migrants, along with links established with counterfeiters who supplied fraudulent travel identification documents to those seeking illegal crossing.
The smugglers arranged for irregular migrants to travel from Athens to Brussels Airport Zaventem and Brussels South Gosselies. The migrants used genuine passports, presenting themselves as the real owners of the documents – what is called ‘look-alike‘ document fraud.
After arriving in Brussels, members of the criminal network expanded their illegal services by providing migrants with forged Romanian or Bulgarian travel documents.
As Europol explains, migrants were occasionally offered a short stay in the Brussels area as part of the network’s fraudulent operations.
After the initial transit, the migrants continued, either directly or through Sweden, eventually reaching Norway. In this regard, one member of the criminal network escorted groups of migrants to Brussels before returning to Athens.
Europol further said that migrants, using the underground Hawala banking system, paid a minimum of €5,000 to €6,000 per person. The amount varied based on the quality of the forged documents and additional services related to smuggling.
Recognising the transnational nature of criminal activities, Eurojust took action in May 2023 by establishing a joint investigative team involving Belgium, Greece, and Europol. This collaborative effort was intended to increase judicial cooperation and improve investigative processes.
In August 2023, a cooperative effort between the Spanish National Police and Europol resulted in the arrest of 19 individuals involved in facilitating the transport of undocumented migrants from Spain to Germany and Norway. The arrested persons were 16 Syrians and three Moroccans.