Belgian, Greek Police Bust Migrant Smuggling Network

Belgian and Greek authorities disrupted a network that was smuggling illegal migrants via Belgian airports to other European nations – often Norway – using false or stolen documents, according to European Union law enforcement agencies.

Europol Greece Migrants 1Belgian and Greek police bust a criminal network that smuggled migrants from Greece to Belgium and further to Norway. (Photo: Europol, License)The clients were mostly Iraqis who traveled from Greece to Belgium by plane, for which they had to pay up to 6,000 euros (US$6,508) per person, Eurojust said on Wednesday in a statement.

According to Europol, the payments were made using the Hawala underground banking system, which is a cashless money transfer mechanism that has long been used in the Middle East and South Asia and is based on a network of trusted brokers. Depositors pay cash to a hawala broker in one location, and the broker tells another broker in the area where the cash is to be picked up, who then distributes the amount.

Smuggling activities were likewise meticulously planned and executed.

“The migrants used genuine passports, presenting themselves as the real owners of the documents – what is called ‘look-alike’ document fraud,” Europol stated.

Once in Brussels, members of the criminal network who escorted them on the journey would provide the migrants with false Romanian or Bulgarian travel passports.

While the migrants would continue their travel to Norway, by plane or car, members of the criminal network would return to Athens.

Eurojust explained that investigations into the smuggling network in Belgium started in April 2022, following the arrest of a smuggler who was accompanying three illegal migrants at the Brussels airport.

These investigations discovered an organized criminal group that helped small groups of two to four illegal migrants move from Greece to Belgium, after they arrived in Greece through illegal routes.

The most recent operation, launched on Nov. 13 with Eurojust and Europol, resulted in the arrest of 11 people – eight in Belgium, two in Greece, and one in Sweden.

Police also searched 16 locations, 12 in Belgium and four in Greece, and seized phones and other electronic devices and digital evidence, as well as two boxes with forged passports and nearly 200,000 euros ($216,917) in cash.