Police in northern Greece have arrested 13 people accused of migrant smuggling. The men reportedly abducted and tortured migrants as young as 16 years old.
Police raided four houses in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki on Saturday and arrested 13 people aged 19 to 26, the Athens News Agency reported. Among those detained was a 20-year-old man believed to be the mastermind of a ring that allegedly transported migrants within Greece and abroad.
According to police, the smugglers had transported 22 migrants between mid-March and mid-April. They are accused of detaining two migrants, aged 16 and 21, in a shed and demanding money from their families. One of the hostages alleged that a smuggler tried to rape him.
Police seized electric irons and sticks said to have been used by gang members to torture their hostages, along with several mobile phones, a laptop computer, identity documents and five vehicles used to transport the migrants.
Also read: Alleged migrant smugglers arrested in Spain
Migrant smuggling hub
A large number of criminal networks have been detected in northern Greece, an important hub for smuggling of migrants into Europe. The EU police agency Europol warned last May that the easing of coronavirus measures could lead to increased irregular migration to Europe.
In January, 2021, Greek police, supported by Europol, said they had dismantled an organized crime group smuggling migrants across the land border from Turkey.
According to Europol, relatives of the smuggled migrants paid up to €2,500 per person for the smuggling services, with the money transferred using the Hawala network. The smugglers reportedly used violence against the migrants to ensure that the payments were made.