Migrant Forgeries: Europol and Partners Disrupt Criminal Operation

A joint investigation by Greek and Belgian authorities, supported by Europol and Eurojust, has successfully dismantled a criminal network engaged in smuggling migrants from Greece to Northern Europe. The operation, which took place on November 13, 2023, resulted in the arrest of 11 individuals – 8 in Belgium, 2 in Greece, and 1 in Sweden – and the execution of 16 location searches, signalling a major blow to an illicit operation that has been running since January 2022.

The criminal network, predominantly comprised of Egyptian and Syrian nationals, specialized in facilitating the illegal secondary movements of migrants from Greece to Northern Europe, with a primary focus on Norway. The modus operandi involved collaborating with legitimate travel agencies and utilizing connections with forgers to provide migrants with fake travel identification documents.

Migrants seeking entry into Northern Europe were charged exorbitant fees, ranging from EUR 5,000 to EUR 6,000, for an “Athens–Brussels ticket” and a forged ID. The intricate web of operations ensured that migrants appeared legitimate by utilizing genuine passports, a ‘look-alike’ document fraud technique. Upon arrival in Brussels, members of the criminal network supplied migrants with fake Romanian or Bulgarian travel documents, sometimes coupled with a brief stay in the Brussels area.

The criminal network’s sophistication extended to their use of the Hawala underground banking system for financial transactions, with migrants paying for their journey depending on the quality of the forged documents and additional smuggling services. The seized evidence during the operation included phones, electronic devices, two boxes of forged passports, and nearly EUR 200,000 in cash, providing a glimpse into the lucrative nature of this criminal enterprise.

One notable aspect of the operation was the collaboration between Belgian, Greek, and Europol authorities. In May 2023, Eurojust facilitated the establishment of a joint investigation team, fostering international judicial cooperation to tackle this transnational criminal network. The successful outcome of this collaborative effort highlights the importance of cross-border cooperation in combating organized crime, particularly in the realm of human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

The illicit activities of this network not only jeopardized the safety of migrants but also underscored the need for a comprehensive and coordinated approach to address the root causes of irregular migration. As authorities continue dismantling such criminal enterprises, it becomes increasingly evident that a multifaceted strategy involving law enforcement, international collaboration, and addressing socio-economic factors is crucial to curb the prevalence of migrant smuggling networks in Europe and beyond.