Spain smashes ring smuggling Albanian migrants to Britain

Spanish police said Saturday they have broken up a gang suspected of smuggling Albanian migrants including children into Britain, hidden as stowaways in dangerous conditions aboard ferries and merchant ships.

Spain smashes ring smuggling Albanian migrants to Britain
Police officers patrol the border between Spain and Gibraltar at La Línea de la Concepción. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP

Officers arrested seven suspects, all Albanians from an “important criminal organisation”, during the operation carried out in cooperation with Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA), the Guardia Civil police force said.

Among those arrested are the two suspected ringleaders, who were detained Monday about to board a flight at Madrid airport bound for Albania, the force said in a statement.

The smugglers charged Albanians up to €15,000 to stow them away from ports in northern Spain. “The methods used to conceal them posed a risk to the life or physical integrity of the migrants, some of them minors,” the statement said.

Police said the group was believed to have been active since 2014, and would “recruit” migrants in Albania or camps near the northern ports. The smuggling network provided migrants with accommodation and food until they made their journey to Britain.

The NCA said the number of migrants the group smuggled is unknown, but around 50 people who made the crossing with their help have so far been identified by British and Spanish authorities.

“People smugglers put lives at risk, which is why disrupting and dismantling criminal networks like this is a priority,” NCA international regional manager Steve Reynolds said in a statement.

Officers seized items as part of their operation including telephones, computers, bank cards and cash receipts as well as identity documents and passports.

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Spanish police arrest 43 in crackdown on migrant worker exploitation

Spanish police said Thursday they have broken up a criminal group that exploited undocumented migrant workers in the agricultural sector, mainly from Morocco, and sold them false documents.

Spanish police arrest 43 in crackdown on migrant worker exploitation

Officers arrested 43 people in the southern province of Malaga suspected of belonging to the ring, which charged illegal migrants up to 3,000 euros ($3,200) for fake work contracts to allow them to regularise their status, police said in a statement.

“Some of the migrants were housed in inhumane conditions in houses belonging to the organisation,” it added.

A video released by police showed a cramped room with decrepit walls and a small single bed that was used to house migrants.

At least seven agricultural firms are believed to have taken part in the scheme dedicated to the “labour exploitation” of Moroccan nationals, the statement added.

Spain is a key gateway into Europe for illegal migration from Africa although arrival numbers decreased last year.

A total of 31,219 people entered Spain without permission last year, mainly by boat from Morocco — a drop of 25.6 percent over 2021, according to interior ministry figures.

About 800,000 Moroccans legally live in Spain, making it the biggest foreign population in the country, according to national statistics institute INE figures.

Migrant workers face a higher risk of forced labour than other workers, according to the UN International Labour Organization (ILO).

“The forced labour prevalence of adult migrant workers is more than three times higher than that of adult non-migrant workers,” it wrote in a September 2022 report.