A large, joint operation against people-smuggling networks conducted by several European police corps, with the support and cooperation of Europol and Eurojust, has led to the arrest of forty-six persons. The arrests took place in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Switzerland and are the result of investigations and house searches. As a direct consequence of the joint operation, a number of illegal immigrants have also been arrested in various Member States.
Code-named ‘Operation Ticket to Ride’, the operation targeted a network, primarily consisting of Iraqi and former Iraqi nationals, which facilitated the illegal immigration of citizens from Iraq and from other countries, such as Afghanistan, into and within Europe.
Europol experts prepared various intelligence reports, facilitated the exchange of information, and co-ordinated the police operations. Europol also hosted several operational meetings in the course of the operation. The main suspects and new criminal links were discovered by Europol in close co-operation with national experts after in-depth analysis.
At the request of the Italian investigating magistrates, Eurojust was involved in assisting the co-ordination of the investigations and the exchange of information between the Member States involved. Eurojust dealt with the issuing of European Arrest Warrants and also hosted a coordination meeting.
The joint operation was initiated in Rome, where an international coordination center was set up by the Italian State Police. Experts and liaison officers from the various EU Member States were also present. During the operation, Europol was represented by two experts.
The network was responsible for recruiting the illegal immigrants, mainly in Iraq, before transporting them to various EU Member States. Each of the persons smuggled is believed to have paid between 4,000 and 8,000 US dollars to reach Italy, depending on the means of transportation.
It is believed that this network is responsible for smuggling more than 5,000 persons between December 2006 and June 2009. The money was normally paid via wire transfer.
The illegal immigrants usually travelled in cramped conditions in trucks, camper vans, coaches or boats from Iraq to Europe via Turkey. Some of the illegal immigrants also used forged or counterfeited travel documents.