Border police in northwestern Italy arrested 10 people who allegedly took undocumented migrants from Italy to France at least 16 times.
The alleged traffickers were arrested by police in the Italian city of Ventimiglia near the French border on February 13.
The suspects are mainly Algerian and Tunisian nationals, as well as an Albanian woman and a French man, investigators said. Three of those detained were already under house arrest.
They were arrested as part of the so-called operation Sciarun (Charon in Arabic) against migrant trafficking.
Police are still looking for two suspects who are on the run. All suspects face charges of aiding and abetting illegal immigration, investigative sources said.
Migrants forced to pay 200 euros each
The one-year-long probe coordinated by the State attorney's office in Imperia led to the discovery of at least 16 trips across the border from Italy to France, according to investigative sources.
Migrants were contacted by members of the organization near the station of Ventimiglia as well as in front of a number of bars in the city. Some were also contacted on the phone and offered the trip. They were then taken across the border by car, train or bus, investigative sources said.
Imperia prosecutor Alberto Lari on February 13 said the alleged traffickers were "extremely strict on the price: You had to pay 200 euros, with 199 you stayed home."
More arrests in 2019
Border police official Martino Santacroce said the alleged traffickers often switched cars in order not to be detected by police. Santacroce said border police carried out 193 arrests in 2019 (23 more than in 2018), including 62 for illegal immigration and 14 as part of cross-border operations with France.
A total of 13,339 police officers and 5,889 patrols were deployed at the border between Italy and France in 2019 and 93 joint operations were carried out with French security officials, according to the police officials.
Santacroce also said that a reported 100,027 people were identified as part of security operations at the border and 23,220 vehicles checked. A total of 287 undocumented migrants were taken back to France after they had crossed the border illegally, Santacroce said. In 2018, that number was just 201.