Police arrest 75 for smuggling people into EU

23/06/2008 - 14:09

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Police across Europe have broken up an Iraqi-run network that smuggled illegal immigrants into the continent for fees of up to 12,000 euros (9,498 pounds) per person, European officials said on Monday.

"This was one of the largest coordinated actions againstpeople smugglers ever, involving more than 1,300 policeofficers," Europol and Eurojust, the continent's Hague-basedpolice and prosecution agencies, said in a joint statement.

They said police had arrested 75 people in jointinvestigations in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland,Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain.

"All suspects are said to be involved in the clandestinesmuggling of a large number of illegal immigrants into andwithin the European Union," Europol and Eurojust said.

Codenamed "Operation Baghdad" as it targeted a networkmainly involving Iraqi nationals, Eurojust coordinated theinvestigation at the request of French magistrates and set up acentre in Paris to liaise between involved countries.

The network is accused of transporting illegal immigrantsfrom Afghanistan, China, Turkey and Bangladesh to EU memberstates. One of the main organisers in France is believed tohave smuggled in around 280 people in a six-month period.

The migrants paid 10,000 to 12,000 euros, often by wiretransfer, and travelled in cramped conditions in camper vans,coaches, boats or even planes from Iraq via Turkey to Europe,Europol and Eurojust said.

Immigration is a sensitive issue in the EU, where voters'fears about security and unemployment clash with businesspressure to admit more migrants to counter skills gaps.

EU lawmakers ruled last week that illegal immigrants can bedetained for up to 18 months and face a re-entry ban of up tofive years, measures that have prompted criticism the wealthybloc is becoming a "Fortress Europe."

The European Commission estimates there are up to 8 millionillegal migrants in the EU. More than 200,000 were arrested inthe EU in the first half of 2007 with less than 90,000expelled.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by Diana Abdallah)

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