The 11 people arrested by Europol are suspected of smuggling migrants from Greece to Northern Europe by air. The arrests were announced on Wednesday following a joint investigation by Greece and Belgium.
“A Greek-Belgian investigation supported by Europol and Eurojust has led to the dismantling of a criminal network that smuggled migrants by air from Athens to Northern Europe,” stated a press release from Europol on Wednesday (November 15).
Swedish and Norwegian authorities also assisted in the investigation. The arrest took place on November 13th. 8 people were arrested in Belgium, two in Greece and one in Sweden.
Police searched properties in Belgium and Greece, including two travel companies in the Greek capital, Athens.
During the search, officers seized phones, other electronic devices and digital evidence, as well as two boxes of fake passports and around 200,000 euros in cash, according to a press release.
Europol said the criminal network was mainly made up of Egyptians and Syrians. They are suspected of conspiring since January 2022 to smuggle migrants from Athens to Scandinavia via Belgium, with the final destination in most cases being Norway.
According to investigators, the network provided genuine passports to migrants at Athens airport, which they used to check flights bound for Brussels Zaventem or Brussels South Goslies airports.
Europol calls this “look-alike” document fraud, where a passport holder looks like the original passport holder and pretends to be the genuine owner of the passport.
Once in Brussels, the network provided the migrants with fake Romanian or Bulgarian travel documents. The trip also included a short stay in the Brussels area.
The migrants are believed to have paid at least 5,000 to 6,000 euros each for the trip. Members of the group will accompany you to Brussels and then fly back to Athens.
Investigators said the payments were made through Hawala’s underground banking system. According to the press release, the investigation into this group began in May 2023.
Eurojust has set up a joint investigation team to “facilitate judicial cooperation”. The press release did not reveal the number of migrants the network is accused of successfully smuggling into Norway via this route.