On 11 January 2011, Europol supported an Italian-led day of action to disrupt a major illegal immigrant smuggling network. This cross-border investigation ran for almost two years and has resulted in 26 arrests, mainly in Italy but also in France and Germany.
The investigation focused on the smuggling of Afghan nationals from Afghanistan via Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. Having first smuggled the migrants into Greece, the facilitators transported the migrants to Rome via Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro or Slovenia. Once in Rome, the migrants were moved north, towards the three favoured destination countries: Norway, Sweden and the UK. The main transit countries used for this second phase of the smuggling were Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands. The illegal immigrants journeys could take anything from a few days up to many weeks, and they each paid around 3500Euro – 5000Euro for the leg of their journey from Afghanistan to Italy.
The criminal network of facilitators was well established with cells in many countries: France, Germany, Greece, Norway, Sweden, the UK, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. The network had access to falsified EU identity documents and made use of the Hawala private money broker network to transfer funds between the criminals based in France, Greece, Italy, Iran, Pakistan and the UK.
It is thought that this network was responsible for smuggling around 200, mainly Afghan, migrants per month from August 2008 to date. Around 20 percent of those smuggled are believed to have been minors and indeed minors were found during house searches carried out as part of this operation.
The Europol mobile office was deployed at Italian Police HQ in Rome for the duration of the live operation. An illegal immigration specialist and an analyst were also present. Throughout the investigation, Europol experts provided technical expertise and operational analysis support, as well as preparing several intelligence reports and facilitating the exchange of information. Coordination of the operation was also supported by Eurojust.