MADRID – Spanish police have arrested 155 people in several cities for alleged involvement in a trafficking ring that used Spain as a staging point to take predominantly Chinese citizens to the United Kingdom using false documentation, officials said on Tuesday.
Spain’s National Police said traffickers would approach candidates in China and offer falsified documentation and safe travel to the UK or Ireland for a sum of $24,000.
Many migrants were first smuggled into Spain, which is inside the European Union’s free travel area, and placed in temporary accommodation in Barcelona pending the arrival of fresh documentation for the next leg of the trip into the UK.
“The criminal organization would buy plane tickets on the same day so as to not alert police and assigned travelers with guides, who would accompany them throughout the journey and teach them useful English phrases commonly used at border controls,” police said.
The majority of those detained in relation to the alleged trafficking ring were also Chinese citizens, police said.
The police investigation began three years ago following a sharp increase in the use of forged travel documentation at Barcelona-El Prat airport and five victims of the smuggling ring later came forward to testify against the organization on the basis that their identities would remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
Of those arrested on suspicion of providing forged documentation, 111 were detained at Barcelona’s El Prat airport; 19 at Madrid’s Barajas airport; six in Alicante; five in Ibiza; three in Línea de la Concepción, near Cádiz; two in Avilíes, Asturias; two in Bilbao; two in Castellón and one in Málaga.
Police said the criminal ring was highly secretive, well-structured and hierarchical, and was present not only in Spain but in other European countries, allowing it to adapt according to changes in migrant and travel laws.