121 arrests in operation against migrant smuggling and human trafficking – INTERPOL

9 May 2022
Operation Storm Makers busts criminal networks profiting from the movement of vulnerable men, women and children across borders.

LYON, France – An INTERPOL-coordinated operation targeting migrant smuggling and human trafficking has triggered 121 arrests across 25 countries, prompting 193 new investigations.

Operation Storm Makers (21 – 25 March 2022) saw authorities carry out enforcement actions against organized crime groups believed to be facilitating the travel of Asian men, women and children across borders for exploitation and/or profit.

In total, authorities rescued 80 human trafficking victims and identified some 3,400 irregular migrants.

Operational coordination units were set up in Hanoi (Vietnam) and Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), helping assess intelligence and facilitating enforcement actions between participating countries.

Smart electronic gates, connected to INTERPOL’s databases, were activated at airports across the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to boost passport checks and help detect forged documents.

Globally, some 15 million checks were carried out against INTERPOL’s databases at air, land and sea borders, generating ‘hits’ or alerts for fraudulent travel documents, as well as INTERPOL Notices against individuals wanted on various charges, including murder and fraud.

Organ trafficking, forced labour, sexual exploitation uncovered

In Turkey, police arrested four people, dismantling a suspected international organ trafficking ring. The criminal network, originating in India, is accused of targeting vulnerable Indonesian nationals and facilitating kidney transplants in Turkey. The suspects went as far as staging wedding photos and falsifying documents in order to establish fake family relationships between recipients and donors. With each kidney fetching USD 37,000 on the black market, the organ donor would receive USD 15,000, with the remainder split among members of the network.

Police in Malaysia and Cambodia worked closely on a case involving 15 men and one woman lured to Cambodia on the promise of a lucrative salary to work in a call centre. On arrival, however, they were locked up and forced to work 14-hour days as scammers. Authorities in both countries believe there are more victims of the criminal group and the ongoing investigation is being supported by INTERPOL’s Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants unit.

Organ traffickers in Turkey staged wedding photos between recipients and donors to mislead hospital ethics checks.
Malaysian law enforcement inspect a warehouse during Operation Storm Makers 2022.
Smart electronic gates, connected to INTERPOL’s databases, were activated at airports across the United Arab Emirates.
Authorities in the Philippines arrested eight suspects on charges of trafficking, child exploitation and child abuse.
Fishing vessels were inspected during Operation Storm Makers 2022.
Operational coordination units were set up in Hanoi (Vietnam) and Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates).

Additional operational highlights:

  • The Philippines rescued 32 victims of human trafficking and arrested eight suspects on charges of trafficking, child exploitation and child abuse.
  • Authorities in Greece intercepted a car carrying five irregular migrants from Afghanistan and Syria, who had each paid EUR 4,000 to a smuggler in Turkey for transport to Thessaloniki.
  • Vietnamese migrants were intercepted on the Hungary-Romania border, on their way to Germany. Their smugglers, also of Vietnamese origin, had coordinated all aspects of their illegal journey via social media platforms.
  • In the UAE, a 17-year old girl was rescued from sexual exploitation. Brought to the UAE from Pakistan when she was just 13, the girl had been forced into prostitution by a family member.
  • In the Maldives, intelligence led authorities to a possible brothel operating as a salon and spa, where they believe trafficked Thai women had been forced into prostitution. Authorities liaised with the women to ensure their safe return to Thailand and are working via the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Bangkok to investigate the organized crime group behind their recruitment and exploitation.

INTERPOL’s Secretary General, Jürgen Stock, said: “In just one week, this operation generated nearly 200 new investigations, revealing the sheer scale of these crimes. It is a huge responsibility for law enforcement, particularly when you know that the victims are in abusive or life-threatening situations. INTERPOL will continue to help authorities close the gaps and ensure the offenders behind these appalling activities are brought to justice.”

Working together

Participating countries received support from INTERPOL’s Specialized Operational Network against migrant smuggling, as well as its Human Trafficking Experts Group. AIRCOP, Homeland Security Investigations, the International Organization Migration and the Regional Support Office for The Bali Process delivered pre-operational training. EUROPOL actively supported the operational phase by cross-checking information against its databases.

Participating countries

Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Turkey, UAE, UK, Vietnam.

Operation Storm Makers was funded by the INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World.