Police in Ventimiglia, Italy, have arrested five men on charges of belonging to an organized criminal group. The men allegedly spearheaded a human trafficking organization active on the Italy-France border.
The five men from Bangladesh, who were residing legally in Italy, allegedly organized trips across the Italian-French border, charging up to 500 euros per person.
Their organisation reportedly had recruiters, cashiers, apartment managers and smugglers, as well as informal advertising through social media networks for migrants of any nationality. Police say they were smuggling people from Ventimiglia - a northwestern Italian city near the border with France - into Mentone or Marseille. Mentone is a small French town located located about 20 minutes from Ventimiglia by car, while Marseille is the second-largest city in France, located on about 3 hours west from Ventimiglia.
From 100 to 500 euros per person for crossing
An investigation reportedly revealed that each migrant was asked to pay between 100 to 500 euros for the border crossing. The amount varied depending on whether the migrant was taken to Mentone or Marseille. Migrants interested in undertaking the crossing were able to contact the organisation - which had various "employees" - including drivers, cashiers, and recruiters - through social media.
Forty police officers took part in an early-morning raid on September 27. A preliminary investigative judge ordered the five men be taken into preventative custody on the same day, on charges of belonging to a criminal association aimed at facilitating illegal immigration.
Collaboration between Italy and France
Two other men from Bangladesh were issued a ban on entering four Italian provinces near the French border (Imperia, Cuneo, Turin and Aosta). Dozens of those under investigation are still free.
The investigation was conducted by border police in Ventimiglia in collaboration with French police. It began roughly a year ago when a smuggler was arrested at the A10 motorway toll booth in Ventimiglia. He was carrying nine migrants hidden in a car.
Border police director Martino Santacroce said the operation cuts down a organization with "strong roots" in Ventimiglia and in the surrounding area, which has contacts in Turin and Milan as well.