Eighteen people from Afghanistan and Romania have been arrested in a major cross-border police operation. The men are suspected of smuggling mostly Afghan migrants in lorries from Romania into Germany.
A total of 18 Afghan and Romanian suspects have been accused of smuggling around 200 people in "highly dangerous" operations over the last year, according to a German Federal Police statement in Munich. German and Romanian investigative teams, comprising detectives and state prosecutors, managed to arrest the 18 suspects in the city of Timisoara, Romania on October 5.
The arrests followed months of investigations into smuggling operations which date from November 2020 onwards. Many of those smuggled were brought into Germany by lorry. According to the police statement, a number of the lorries carried small groups of Afghans from Romania along the A8, A3, A6 and A17 motorways into Germany, mostly via the states of Saxony and Bavaria.
The migrants often jumped off the lorries as they were being loaded or unloaded, or during a break at the roadside.
Police investigators say that the Afghans smuggled were often put into "life-endangering" situations, or carried in "inhumane conditions." Often they were loaded on top or in between the goods being transported. Many of the goods were heavy, such as wooden pallets or logs. The migrants also often had to endure long periods in cold temperatures, the police statement continued.
In many of the lorries they found plastic bottles which had been given to the migrants in case they needed to relieve themselves.
A team of investigators from Rosenheim and Munich worked with public prosecutors in Traustein, who are responsible for fighting cross-border crime. The Traustein team has developed a practice of gathering at least 50 similar cases before making arrests. In this case, they found that most of the lorries were entering Germany either via the Austrian border, or via the Czech border.
Drivers 'unaware' of migrant cargo
Police found that many of the lorry drivers, often Bulgarian nationals, had stopped to sleep in Romania and had not realized that migrants had been loaded on board their lorries. They found that the smugglers had manipulated or broken the security locks on the lorry in order to load migrants. Investigators said they had managed to shut the doors in such a way that it appeared from the outside that nothing had been tampered with.
Many of the Afghans smuggled had paid several thousand euros to be given a place on the lorries, according to the investigators. By tracing the lorry journeys back, they found that many of the Afghans had been loaded on in, or near, the Romanian city of Timisoara.
Prison time in Romania or Germany
According to the Bavarian state broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR24), many of the Afghans told the investigators that they had traveled via Pakistan, through Iran and then Turkey before reaching Europe. They were then brought by smugglers through Greece, Serbia and on into Romania. They often paid smugglers between €5,000 and €7,000 for the journey, in the hope that they would eventually arrive in Germany.
The German investigators worked alongside their Romanian colleagues and the European police agency Europol to be able to gather enough evidence to arrest the 18 suspects. The Bavarian police said that the arrests were a "significant step to fighting international smuggling rings," and praised the cross-border European operation, reported BR.
The police statement concluded that, if found guilty, the suspects would either serve time in Romania or be delivered to Germany to serve their prison sentences.
With dpa, BR24