LYON, France – Criminal groups behind human trafficking and migrant smuggling have been hit hard in an operation coordinated by INTERPOL, with 286 suspects arrested worldwide.
Law enforcement officials from 47 countries participated in Operation Liberterra (5 - 9 July), carrying out some 500,000 inspections at checkpoints and airports as well as at hotspots identified through intelligence and investigations.
Authorities rescued some 430 human trafficking victims and identified 4,000 irregular migrants originating from 74 different countries. Many of them required medical, psychological and housing assistance and were taken into the care of protective services.
In addition, 60 new transnational investigations were initiated.Fake or stolen identity documents remain the golden ticket when it comes to helping people cross borders illegally, with such documents seized on every continent. On the first day of the operation, authorities in Tanzania arrested a Ugandan bus driver carrying a box of 169 forged passports from Kampala to Dar Es Salaam.
“Operation Liberterra is a five-day snapshot of the global trafficking and smuggling situation, and how multinational, highly organized criminal networks only focus on one thing: profit,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock.
“With 22 criminal groups dismantled, it also shows what coordinated, global law enforcement action can achieve.”
Crime groups dismantled around the world
Operational highlights included:
- Algerian authorities dismantled a smuggling group focusing on maritime routes to European coasts.
- Colombia dismantled two different criminal organizations, making 22 arrests. While one group was dedicated to smuggling migrants to the US, the other group focused on bringing Cuban and Haitian migrants from Ecuador into Colombia. In addition, two subjects of INTERPOL Red Notices wanted internationally by Spain for human trafficking were arrested.
- Authorities in Ecuador arrested 8 suspects who smuggled migrants to the US using a legitimate travel agency as a cover to book flights via Mexico.
- Officers in Ghana intercepted two Nigerian suspects accused of running a human trafficking ring between Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.
- Six members of an organized crime group were arrested in North Macedonia. The leader had been working with associates in the Middle East to smuggle migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Syria to Greece.
- Authorities in Sudan rescued 253 victims of human trafficking, arresting 32 suspects.
- An organized crime group based in Spain which smuggled migrants by sea from Algeria to the Spanish coast was dismantled.
Exploiting the most vulnerable
With smugglers focused on profit margins, they facilitated the passage of migrants with little or no regard for their safety and well-being.
Croatia and Nicaragua reported deadly traffic accidents when smugglers tried to evade road checks. Migrants in Slovenia were made to travel inside dog houses. In Greece, migrants reported paying as much as EUR 2,000 each for a four-hour car journey across the country. The Tunisian coast guard rescued 69 migrants from 11 different African countries after receiving a distress call from their boat.
Authorities also rescued a number of underage trafficking victims during the operation. Seven young girls were interviewed in Lebanon in connection with an international sexual exploitation and human trafficking ring. Underage victims in Venezuela reported being coerced into sexual exploitation through death threats from human traffickers.
Member countries used the opportunity to raise awareness, including in the UAE where a campaign was launched in recruitment centers for domestic workers.
INTERPOL’s policing capabilities
INTERPOL’s databases were queried 508,000 times and Notices played a key role in the location and arrest of wanted individuals. For example, police in the UK arrested six fugitives wanted by different countries in Europe for migrant smuggling and human trafficking tied to sexual exploitation.
Brazil, Colombia, Curacao and Panama nabbed fugitives wanted under Red Notices for other crimes such as drug trafficking, rape and assault and money laundering.
Three Operational Coordination Units in Panama, Sudan and the UAE supported the participating countries, with a Central Support Unit at the INTERPOL General Secretariat in Lyon.
This joint operation was supported by a number of partners – the International Organization for Migration, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Europol.
The operation was carried out under the auspices of Project Flyway, funded by Norway, ROCK (Regional operational Centre in support of the Khartoum Process and African Union-Horn of Africa Initiative), and the INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World.
Algeria, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, North Macedonia, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.