German authorities busted a human smuggling ring, arresting 19 people early on Tuesday as they conducted raids in the German states of Berlin, Lower Saxony, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia.
The suspects who are Syrian, Lebanese and Libyan nationals, between the ages of 21 and 44, are said to have used vans and cars to move the refugees across land borders, prosecutors said.
Authorities say the operation was sophisticated, and the suspects were a professional gang who brought migrants to Germany using the so-called Balkan route from Turkey and Greece to Austria.
The suspected smugglers, who face charges of human trafficking, had since April 2019 brought to Germany at least about 140 migrants in exchange for large sums of money, the prosecutors said.
Germany is already home to more than 800,000 Syrians who fled the civil war in their country. Their numbers peaked in 2015, when a record of one million people entered Germany seeking asylum.
Meanwhile, thousands of Syrian live in refugee camps in Greece, Turkey and Lebanon, where many dream of a new life in Europe, making those who have money easy prey for smugglers.
Federal police discovered the gang in August 2019 when smugglers driving migrants in vans were arrested on a highway in the south on the border with Austria.
Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Belgium as well as Europol were involved in an investigation that led to the arrest of the gang’s chief in Austria in December. Germany is seeking his extradition.
More than 400 police officers and investigators took part in Tuesday’s raids. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)