An operational task force (OTF), directed by the German Federal Police and coordinated by Europol, targeted some of the most dangerous migrant smugglers in the entire European Union. The OTF Pathfinder involved law enforcement authorities from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and the Netherlands, resulting in the opening of 39 new investigations. The Action Day resulted in the arrest of two high-value targets, 12 house searches and the seizure of more than 80,000 euros in Germany and France.
Investigations by the operation’s task force have so far led to:
- 8 high-value targets arrested and 3 subject to a European Arrest Warrant (2 in Austria, 7 in Germany, 1 in Hungary and 1 in Romania)
- 127 arrests of facilitators (63 in Austria, 19 in Germany, 15 in Hungary, 25 in Romania, 4 in the Netherlands and 1 in Serbia)
- 916 smuggling incidents detected (600 in Austria, 262 in Germany, 26 in Hungary, 22 in Romania, and 6 in the Netherlands)
- 151 house searches (37 in Austria, 70 in Germany, 17 in Hungary, 25 in Romania and 2 in the Netherlands)
- Seizures of various assets for a total value of approximately 900,000 euros
The OTF Pathfinder, set up at Europol in August 2021 and initiated by Germany, targeted some of the most dangerous migrant smugglers active throughout the EU. These Europol high-value targets, primarily Syrian nationals, had global connections to source, transit and destination countries. Europol checked its databases and found that these suspects are already linked to more than 150 investigations.
Since the launch of the OTF Pathfinder, national law enforcement authorities have opened 39 new investigations related to these 14 individuals. One of these connected investigations led to the arrest of one of the high-value targets by the Italian Financial Corps, backed by the Albanian police and the Hellenic police. Another led to the arrest of 18 suspects in Romania. The suspects were paid between 4,000 and 10,000 euros, despite smuggling and housing migrants in extremely poor and often life-threatening conditions.
Investigations revealed that those arrested facilitated the smuggling of at least 10,000 migrants, mainly of Afghan, Pakistani and Syrian origin, into the EU. Europol facilitated the exchange of information and developed a large number of intelligence analysis products, which help national authorities to connect these large-scale cross-border criminal activities, identifying perpetrators and detecting ongoing smuggling activities.
Investigations uncovered that these suspects were managing a large-scale smuggling business, making use of the same logistics, accommodation and travel arrangements. They used loading docks of lorries, closed vans and personal cars to move migrants from Turkey through the Western Balkan region, Romania and Hungary to Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. Payments were mainly made through the so-called hawala financial system.
The suspects used social media platforms to advertise their illegal business and to persuade migrants’ relatives that the smuggling was safe. Typically, facilitators must build trust among migrant communities in order to recruit as many people as possible.