• Saturday, 13 July 2024

International migrant smuggling ring thwarted, 62 arrested

International migrant smuggling ring thwarted, 62 arrested

Skopje, 25 July 2023 (2023) - The Ministry of Interior took part in an international operation in five countries throughout July, coordinated by Interpol and Europol, leading to the arrest of 62 individuals, including 25 Cubans, and seizing forged documents and money, the MoI said on Tuesday.

Members of the criminal groups, in order to "promote" their services to illicit vulnerable citizens (in this case, Cuban nationals), used social media apps and for a payment of around EUR 9,000, they would organize the trip, transfers, and provide false documentation, needed to enter the European Union, the MoI said in a press release.

It adds that the migrants travelled by plane from Cuba to Serbia, then they would try to illegally enter Greece through North Macedonia, and then to Spain. It is suspected that a total of 5,000 Cuban nationals were smuggled into the EU, generating a profit of around EUR 45 million for the criminal groups.

The smugglers and their collaborators, who facilitated the movement of migrants from Cuba through North Macedonia, were mostly Serbian citizens, but they also had help from individuals in North Macedonia.

The investigation, coordinated by Interpol and Europol, was launched in October 2021 after Serbia, Greece, North Macedonia and Finland reported an increased number of Cuban citizens attempting to enter Europe with falsified documentation.

"Initially, Cuban nationals used commercial flights to Russia where smugglers offered them the opportunity to either illegally cross the Finnish-Russian border to enter EU territory, or to fly to Serbia to continue their journey into Central or Southern Europe. However, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the route was changed and Cuban nationals flew from Germany to Serbia. Then, members of the criminal group would facilitate their irregular entry into North Macedonia and Greece, often times making them walk in the dark without supplies of food and water. Some of the most vulnerable migrants, including minors, were subjected to scams, robberies, and extortion, and some women were transferred to other criminal groups for sexual exploitation," the Ministry of Interior adds. ssh/ik/

Photo: MoI