An international smuggling gang that trafficked more than 5,000 people has been broken up.
Police from five countries arrested 62 people – 25 of whom were Cuban – from the criminal network who ran the €45 million ring.
The gang had been smuggling people from Cuba through Serbia into Western Europe, charging them €9,000 each.
The investigation, which was co-ordinated by Europol and Interpol, discovered the gang smuggled people from Serbia into Greece and then to Spain.
“Members of the migrant smuggling network used a well-known messaging application to advertise their illicit services to Cuban clients in vulnerable situations,” Europol said.
“For a payment of around €9,000, they would organise the trip, transfers, and provide false documentation.
“The criminals flew in persons from Cuba to Serbia, taking advantage of the lack of visa requirements to enter Serbia at the time.
“Migrants would then be smuggled to Greece, from where they flew into Spain. In total, it is suspected that the criminal network successfully smuggled around 5,000 Cuban nationals into the EU, generating a profit of around €45 million.”
The investigation revealed a complex infrastructure in cities across Spain, Greece and in Serbia.
Raids took place across Europe and have led to hundreds of forged documents, 18 properties, 33 vehicles and large amounts of cash being confiscated.
The investigation began in October 2021 after Serbian, Greek, North Macedonian and Finnish authorities reported an increased number of Cuban citizens attempting to enter Europe with fake papers.
“In January, a joint intelligence notification depicting this trend was issued by Europol, the European Union Agency for Asylum, and Frontex,” Europol said.
“The notification with the subject Cuban Nationals Smuggled into the EU: Shifting Routes and Modi Operandi in a Changed Geo-political Landscape reported on the effect the Russian war in Ukraine had on migrant smuggling routes.
“Initially, Cuban nationals used to fly commercially to Russia from Cuba. There, smugglers offered them the opportunity to either cross the Finnish-Russian border irregularly in order to enter EU territory, or to fly to Serbia to continue their journey into central or southern Europe through the western Balkan region.
“Since the beginning of the war against Ukraine, the route was changed. Cuban nationals were flown to Serbia through Frankfurt airport, Germany. Upon the Cuban nationals’ arrival in Serbia, members of the criminal network would facilitate their irregular entry to North Macedonia and Greece by land.
“Using a variety of routes, the smugglers would direct large groups of migrants and make them walk in the dark without supplies for hours. In addition to these arduous conditions, the criminals would take advantage of the most vulnerable migrants, including minors, and subject them to scams, robberies, and extortion.
“In some cases, women were transferred to other criminal groups for sexual exploitation.”
On arriving in Greece, the migrants would either apply for asylum or go to other EU countries.
“To travel within the EU, the network provided migrants with forged documents or utilised the so-called lookalike method, in which genuine travel documents are stolen and distributed to a migrant closely resembling the real passport holder,” Europol said.