Europol announced that 24 suspects have been arrested for smuggling migrants, drugs and stolen goods into and through Europe.
Europe’s law enforcement agency Europol announced on January 10 that it has arrested 24 suspects on charges of smuggling migrants, drugs and stolen goods into and through Europe.
The raids leading to the arrests actually took place on December 14, 2021, and were undertaken by the Spanish National Police, Policía Nacional, supported by Europol. The day of action, noted a Europol press release, involved nine house searches which led to 24 arrests in Spain.
Spanish police seized four vehicles from the suspected gang members, as well as 3.5 kilograms of ecstasy pills with a street value of about €152,600; 56 grams of phencyclidine – also known as angel dust or PCP, -- which is a disassociative hallucinogenic drug, sometimes causing violent behavior; 710 boxes of smuggled tobacco, stolen goods, including mobile devices, like tablets and mobile phones, competition bikes, electric scooters, other electronic equipment, documents; and about €40,000 in cash.
Smuggling stolen goods and people
According to investigators, police found that the criminal network was not only bringing stolen and illegal goods, like drugs, into Spain but also people. Europol said the network was helping to smuggle migrants from Algeria to Spain, as well as fugitives from Europe towards the Middle East via Algeria.
The gangs had their hands in various crimes in Spain, including "trafficking of synthetic drugs, property crime, tobacco smuggling and trafficking of documents," stated Europol. Spanish investigators offered proof that the network had facilitated the smuggling of at least 250 migrants without papers into Spain in 54 separate incidents in the last few months of 2021.
Investigators said the group was "well-structured, with some members solely involved in management tasks, and others in accommodation, transportation." According to Spanish police money lenders put up money for the migrants' trips and then charged them extremely high interest rates as they paid it back.
Spanish police officers also accuse the gang leader and his wife of using their nine-year-old son as a drug courier. According to Europol. Migrants were charged €5,000 to make the crossing from Algeria to Almería in Spain and then a further €700 to €1,000 from Spain into France.
Europol helped Spanish police with "cross-checking of operational information against Europol’s databases and to provide technical support with data extraction and analysis of digital evidence."
Algeria to Spain route
According to the organization Euromed Rights, the numbers of migrants entering Algeria since 2016 reached a peak in 2021. In 2021, Algeria's police force Gendarmerie Nationale, registered the arrests of more than 10,000 migrants trying to enter Algeria without papers.
The organization Algeria Watch also reported an increase in attempted crossings from Algeria to Spain in the last weeks of December due to clement weather conditions. According to Algeria Watch, almost 150 migrants left Algeria for Spain in the days leading up to December 25.
The Spanish authorities say around 10,000 Algerian migrants arrived in Spain during 2021. 20% more than those attempting the crossing in 2020. The numbers of women, children and disabled people on the boats is also increasing. 39,000 migrants arrived in Spain and its islands overall. According to a migrant rights group Caminando Fronteras, around 4,400 people lost their lives on the journey, although the majority of those were on the Atlantic Route towards the Canary Islands.
In November, Spain expelled more than 50 Algerians by ferry. However, many more remain, either finding work in Spain or traveling on to France where they sometimes have more connections and a shared language.