Human trafficking and migrant smuggling: more than 1,000 arrests in joint INTERPOL-AFRIPOL operation

25 July 2023
Protecting the vulnerable through coordinated law enforcement operations across Africa

LYON, France -- INTERPOL and AFRIPOL’s first joint operation against human trafficking and migrant smuggling resulted in more than 1,000 arrests worldwide and thousands of victims detected.

Coordinated with the participation of law enforcement in 54 countries, operation “FLASH-WEKA” took place in two phases between May and June to dismantle the organized crime networks behind human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Africa and beyond.

Using INTERPOL’s global criminal databases, local law enforcement worked with INTERPOL and AFRIPOL to locate, intercept and stop criminals operating across borders.

FLASH-WEKA results at a glance

  • total arrests: 1,062
  • irregular migrants detected: 2,731
  • human trafficking victims identified: 823
  • criminal merchandise seized: 801 (stolen firearms, vehicles etc.)
  • associated investigations triggered: 197

“Human trafficking and migrant smuggling are often part of a wider and more complex criminal chain. This is why close cooperation between INTERPOL and AFRIPOL is so important in uniting our resources to dismantle these networks and ultimately identify and rescue thousands of unsuspecting victims,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock.

“The leads generated by Operation FLASH-WEKA will no doubt result in further arrests, bringing to justice those who traffic in human misery,” added Secretary General Stock.

In Guinea Bissau, Operation FLASH-WEKA saw the rescue of two minors suspected of being victims of human trafficking
Frontline officers in Togo conduct inspections at local markets identified ahead of Operation FLASH-WEKA as possible trafficking hotspots
As part of Operation FLASH-WEKA, investigators in Mozambique inspect local boats for possible cases of trafficking
Eight Moroccan men were detected with a rubber boat and life jackets preparing for an illegal crossing to Spain
Frontline officers in Iraq patrol the streets of Baghdad as part of Operation FLASH-WEKA
An AFRIPOL official in Benin searches a car for potential victims
Somalia’s multi-agency pre-operational meetings served to assess intelligence and enable frontline officers to target specific hotspots during the tactical phase
Frontline officers in the Seychelles search a boat and talk to crew members to detect possible cases of human trafficking and migrant smuggling
Niger authorities stop two trucks at a suspected trafficking hotspot to check for possible cases of trafficking in minors
Frontline officers conducted inspections at airports, seaports and land border crossings, such as here in Namibia
Frontline officers in the Comoros perform identity checks at maritime borders
To detect potential traffickers, frontline officers in Iraq conduct inspections at Baghdad airport using mobile access to INTERPOL databases
Throughout Operation FLASH-WEKA officers conducted inspections land border crossings such as here in Mozambique
Staff of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Libreville inspect local shops and restaurants for potential cases of human trafficking

Widespread trafficking across West Africa

FLASH-WEKA revealed an increase in online recruitment through e-commerce platforms, with networks identified in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Mali.

Police in Yaoundé rescued victims involved in a pyramid scheme, detaining the suspected perpetrators at Cameroon’s INTERPOL National Central Bureau Command Post where investigations are ongoing.

Intelligence received in Sierra Leone via INTERPOL triggered a police raid rescuing 15 suspected trafficking victims, all men from Sri Lanka.

During a raid in a hotel in Lomé, Togo authorities rescued 30 victims of human trafficking recruited in Nigeria for sexual exploitation.

Two cases of sports-related human trafficking were detected in two countries where recruiters had lured victims to Gulf countries with false promises of registration with football academies.

"The real strength of FLASH-WEKA lies in the tight union between our two Organizations and member countries which together form a formidable alliance against the forces of darkness that exploit people's hopes and aspirations," said AFRIPOL Executive Director Jalel Chelba.

"Through better intelligence sharing, collaborative efforts by law enforcement agencies and comprehensive victim support, we aim to dismantle the networks that profit from the desperation of others. We will bring light to the shadows, uncovering hidden routes and bringing perpetrators to justice," added Mr Chelba.

Preventing the Mediterranean crossing

Sahel operations focused on the prevention of migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean towards Europe.

Eight Moroccan men were detected with a rubber boat and life jackets preparing for an illegal crossing to Spain.

In Tunisia, investigations into a damaged boat discovered 80 miles off the coast of Kerkennah revealed the vessel had capsized between Italy and Libya with 59 passengers on board, including children, from a wide range of countries including Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan and Syria.

Beyond Africa

Many of the cases detected during FLASH-WEKA involved victims from Asia, particularly Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In Angola seven Vietnamese women recruited online with promises of work in hotels and beauty salons were rescued from their trafficker, also from Vietnam, who forced them to work in the sex industry.

Authorities in Iraq arrested nine suspects thought to be involved in organ trafficking cases.

Syrian police rescued an underage girl and arrested two men for her suspected trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Confirming the severity of a growing global trend, Operation FLASH-WEKA unveiled several cases of large-scale human trafficking involving victims who would start online jobs and end up forced to commit cyber-enabled financial crime on an industrial scale.

A collaborative operation

INTERPOL Harare NCB staff worked closely with IOM officials throughout Operation FLASH-WEKA in Zimbabwe
Police officers from Guinea and Senegal worked together on a case involving both countries during the tactical phase of Operation FLASH-WEKA
INTERPOL and AFRIPOL officials were deployed into the field to support local law enforcement in Mozambique
Uganda and the Congo (DRC) work together ahead of operations to assess human trafficking intelligence and target mutual hotspots during the tactical phase
Several countries conducted awareness campaigns, such as here in South Africa, to enable their citizens to protect themselves and their families against human trafficking
Law enforcement agencies in Ghana work together during Operation FLASH-WEKA to detect potential human trafficking victims
The Benin leg of Operation FLASH-WEKA involved the participation of several law enforcement agencies as well as the INTERPOL National Central Bureau
Senegal deployed several law enforcement agencies into the field during Operation FLASH-WEKA to detect cases of human trafficking and migrant smuggling
INTERPOL databases were made available in key strategic locations, such as here at border control in a Brazilian international airport

INTERPOL’s Regional Bureaus in Harare, Abidjan and Yaoundé each hosted an Operational Coordination Unit during the operation, with round-the-clock support from the Organization’s Command and Coordination Centre.

INTERPOL and AFRIPOL officials were deployed into the field to support local law enforcement in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Seychelles.

FLASH-WEKA is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, the European Commission, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Other organizations supporting FLASH-WEKA include Europol, IOM and ROCK (Regional Operational Center in Khartoum in support of the Khartoum Process and AU-Horn of Africa initiative).

The operation was coordinated with the help of INTERPOL’s Support Programme for the African Union which assists AFRIPOL in developing its strategic framework and operational functions across the continent.

Law enforcement agencies in the following countries took part in FLASH-WEKA : Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina-Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Congo DRC, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia,  South Africa, South Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Zambia and Zimbabwe.