Lyon, France – In a case that demonstrates the great risks faced by migrants that resort to smugglers, an eight-year-old boy has been rescued by law enforcement after being kidnapped by fellow migrants and held for ransom.
The boy and his mother had left Côte d’Ivoire in early 2021, hoping to make the journey to Europe. They travelled to Tunisia, where a smuggler promised to help them and a group of Guinean migrants cross the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, the smuggler took their money and disappeared.
In October 2021, convinced that the mother and smuggler had been accomplices since they shared the same nationality, the other migrants kidnapped the then seven-year-old boy and demanded USD 3,000 for his safe return.
After the boy’s mother reported the kidnapping to authorities in Côte d’Ivoire, the INTERPOL National Central Bureau (NCB) in Abidjan turned to INTERPOL’s Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants (HTSM) unit for assistance.
Over the following months, authorities in Abidjan explored investigative leads alongside the HTSM unit to determine the kidnappers’ location. They also published an INTERPOL Yellow Notice for the missing boy and Blue Notices seeking more information on the men suspected of taking him.
A break in the case came in August 2022 when authorities, supported by messaging service providers, were able to identify a location of the suspects in Algeria, though not their exact whereabouts. This sparked intense collaboration between the NCBs in Algiers, Abidjan and Tunis, including their respective cybercrime units.
In October, NCB Abidjan indicated that the messages had become more menacing: the suspects threatened to send videos of the boy being tortured if they were not immediately paid.
Last month, during the INTERPOL General Assembly in New Delhi, India, an urgent coordination meeting on the case was held with Algerian officials in order to review the latest intelligence on the child’s captors.
The investigative work soon paid off as authorities in Algeria located the boy and arrested one suspect in the outskirts of Algiers. A medical screening confirmed that the child had not suffered any direct physical violence or sexual abuse during the ordeal.
In parallel, Guinean police located and arrested the suspect who had sent the ransom demand to the boy’s mother.
Stephen Kavanagh, INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services said: “This case shows the variety of dangers faced by migrants along their journeys. It is a veritable fight for survival and they should not trust those who traffic them.
“Today, a boy is back with his mother thanks to the investigative efforts of officers and colleagues in Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Tunisia. INTERPOL is pleased that international police cooperation has had such a decisive outcome in this case and we thank all concerned,” concluded Mr Kavanagh.
Under the arbitrary control of organized crime groups and treated as little more than merchandise, migrants paying smugglers to illegally cross borders are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Past INTERPOL operations targeting migrant smuggling have rescued hundreds of migrants, including young children, having suffered labour or sexual exploitation, life-threatening transportation conditions or physical abuse by smugglers or fellow migrants.
Last June, the INTERPOL-coordinated Operation Weka rescued nearly 700 victims of human trafficking and yielded 300 arrests across 44 countries.
This joint case was supported by Project Flyway and Trafficking in Human Beings West Africa, which aim to identify and disrupt the criminal networks involved in people smuggling, human trafficking and related crimes.