LYON, France – A major joint operation against human trafficking has led to 212 arrests and the identification of 1,426 potential victims of sexual exploitation, forced begging and forced criminality across 44 countries.
Operation Global Chain (8 - 15 May 2023), led by Austria and Romania, and coordinated by INTERPOL, Europol and Frontex, had two specific areas of focus. Firstly, detecting and disrupting organized crime groups involved in the exploitation of victims originating from South America, Asia, Africa, the Western Balkans and Ukraine. Secondly, it sought to not only identify, but also protect and refer victims - confirmed or potential – to support services.
Coordinated actions were therefore crucial to the operation’s success. The joint operation, which included the EMPACT Joint Action Days against human trafficking, involved a wide range of law enforcement authorities including police, immigration and border control agencies, transport police, social and child protection services.
INTERPOL, Europol, and Frontex coordinated the operation in a unique effort to join forces against human traffickers active across the globe. Officials were present at nearly 4,000 border crossings, as well as main transport hubs to detect potential victims and suspects, with countries adapting operational activities to the types of trafficking prevalent in their regions.
Some 130,000 officers worldwide checked:
- 1.6 million people
- 153,300 vehicles
- 72,850 documents
- 25,400 locations
- 8,644 flights
244 new investigations initiated and 138 suspected traffickers identified
To support officers in the field, an operational hub hosting 24 countries was established at the INTERPOL General Secretariat in Lyon, providing 24/7 analytical and operational support, and facilitating the real-time exchange of information between participating authorities.
Operational highlights include:
- Investigators in Sweden identified five underage boys in a well-known begging area, accompanied by a 19-year-old man. In their statements, the boys indicated that the adult was acting as their boss, overseeing their begging activities.
- In Serbia, six suspects were arrested for sexually exploiting 10 female victims. In a separate case, another suspect was arrested for exploiting a woman in the form of forced begging and forced criminality.
- Romanian authorities conducted 19 house searches and arrested four people suspected of labour exploitation of at least eight victims.
- In North Macedonia, 11 suspects were arrested for the sexual exploitation of minors and trafficking in human beings.
- In Colombia, 27 victims of sexual exploitation were identified and seven suspects arrested.
Additionally, demonstrating the benefit of reinforced border controls, Bulgarian authorities arrested a suspected terrorist fighter, subject to an INTERPOL Red Notice since 2015, who was travelling on a falsified passport.
Looking ahead, 244 new investigations were opened as a result of actions on the ground, and 138 suspected traffickers were identified.
Children: the most vulnerable victims of an underreported crime
Organized crime groups make no distinction between vulnerable groups when targeting victims. As a result, minors are often trafficked for sexual and labour exploitation, forced begging or to commit a variety of crimes, such as smuggling illegal goods and petty crime.
Stephen Kavanagh, INTERPOL Executive Director of Police Services, said: “Criminal groups look at children with a different eye than most of society: they are seen as potential for exploitation and profit.
“Enforcement operations such as Global Chain allow us establish the vital links required to take trafficking networks head-on, and show that we stand united against any exploitation of vulnerable communities,” concluded Mr Kavanagh.
Operation Global Chain was carried out under the aegis of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) and with funding by the German Federal Foreign Office, through INTERPOL’s Project THB Balkans.
Participating countries: Albania, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Kosovo*, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.