In a joint operation with the French border police, Spanish authorities broke up an extensive human-trafficking network that allegedly brought in Chinese citizens to Europe and the United States. Of the 75 people arrested, 51 were detained in Spain by the National Police, including the purported leaders of the ring, who were arrested in Barcelona.
The organization reportedly brought Chinese citizens to various European countries and the United States in exchange for a fee ranging between 40,000 and 50,000 euros per person. At times the group took advantage of European open-border policies to traffic people for sexual exploitation. Police seized 81 fake passports from Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Investigators, who began to pursue ring members in July 2011, discovered that the organization lured people who were interested in leaving China for Europe and the United States. In exchange for a lifetime debt ranging from between 40,000 and 50,000 euros, the organization provided false passports and hired “companions” to accompany the person throughout the trip. These companions were trusted members of the organization, who were familiar with the airports and European cities where the people were brought.
The routes and the travel documents used in the operations were constantly changing depending on the results of previous trips. Ringleaders gave precise instructions on how to go unnoticed at border controls, such as mingling with large groups of tourists. The organization also took charge of preparing fake passports from different Asian countries.
El Prat airport in Barcelona was normally used because it was here, police said, that collaborators with the trafficking network were responsible for picking up the Chinese migrants and providing accommodation until they could arrange the procedures and documents required for their final destinations.
According to police, most of those who were arrested were discovered at several Spanish airports with forged passports.
In searches of two homes belonging to the organization in Barcelona, police seized numerous counterfeit documents and other material used for falsification of documents, including three laptop computers, two printers, a scanner, an electronic magnifier, a UV lamp, 22 rubber stamps used at various border crossings, ink pads, tweezers, cellophane tape, as well as 11 cellphones, cash and various documents.
Searches and arrests were made in various cities, including Málaga, Palma de Mallorca, Alicante, Madrid, Girona and Reus, by immigration officials and police.
In a separate series of developments, Spanish authorities rescued 34 African migrants in the Strait of Gibraltar, near the same spot where 92 other people were picked up on Saturday. Persistent easterly wind gusts exceeding 70km/h had pushed the migrants’ small boats off course, authorities said. Alert calls were issued after border patrol authorities reported seeing more boats in the area, Salvage and rescue teams were dispatched to the Strait to help look for other vessels that might still be in the waters late Sunday.
Those that were rescued were taken to the port of Tarifa in Cádiz province. At least one woman was among the group of migrants traveling on three rubber dinghies.
At press time, there were no reports of other rescues.