Human trafficking investigation results in arrest of 62 smugglers exploiting 'vulnerable Cubans'


An international law enforcement investigation has led to the arrest of over 60 people involved in an intercontinental criminal network that, in some cases, transferred female Cuban migrants to criminal groups for sexual exploitation. 

According to Europol, the law enforcement agency of the European Union, the criminal network smuggled over 5,000 Cuban nationals into the EU, earning a profit of the equivalent of nearly $50 million.

The migrant smuggling network advertised its services to Cubans via a messaging application, organizing their journey to Europe and giving them false documentation. The smugglers flew the migrants from Cuba to Serbia and then Greece before flying them to Spain or Italy.

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The network focused on Cubans in “vulnerable situations,” charging them the equivalent of nearly $10,000 for its services. 

By working with authorities in Germany, Greece, North Macedonia, Spain and Serbia, Europol's investigation led to the arrest of 62 smugglers, 25 of which were Cuban nationals.

In its statement published Monday, Europol outlined its role in organizing operational meetings and deploying its analysts and a specialist to Spain, Greece and Serbia to offer support on the ground. Europol also provided guidance to the deployed personnel on the day of action in June. 

The investigation uncovered a “complex criminal infrastructure” set up in major cities across Spain, Greece and Serbia. 

“On the action day in June 2023, police officers from all three countries seized a variety of criminal assets including hundreds of forged documents and forgery equipment,” Europol’s statement reads. “In total, 18 pieces of real estate, 33 vehicles and 144 bank accounts, alongside vast sums of cash in various currencies, were seized.” 

The investigation began in October 2021 after authorities from Serbia, Greece, North Macedonia and Finland noticed an increase in the number of Cuban migrants seeking to enter Europe with false documentation, according to Europol. 

In January 2023, Europol, the European Union Agency for Asylum and Frontex issued a joint intelligence notification, which had a subject reading “Cuban nationals smuggled into the EU: shifting routes and modi operandi in a changed geo-political landscape.” 

The report noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022, has impacted Cuban smuggling routes. While Cuban nationals were previously flown to Russia, they are now flown to Serbia through an airport in Germany, where smugglers arrange for them to enter North Macedonia and Greece. 

“Using a variety of routes, the smugglers would direct large groups of migrants and make them walk in the dark without supplies for hours,” Europol explained. “In addition to these arduous conditions, the criminals would take advantage of the most vulnerable migrants, including minors, and subject them to scams, robberies, and extortion. In some cases, women were transferred to other criminal groups for sexual exploitation.”

Migrants would apply for asylum in Greece, or the smugglers would arrange their travel to other EU counties by providing them with forged documents, according to the agency. Sometimes, members of the criminal network used the “lookalike” method to make it possible for migrants to travel in the EU. The method involves stealing documents and giving them to a migrant who resembles the victim of the theft. 

Investigations into the smuggling of human beings have become increasingly relevant following the summer release of the film “The Sound of Freedom.” The movie, which has surpassed $100 million at the box office at the time of reporting, depicts a real-life operation to rescue children from sex traffickers in Colombia. 

The film follows Tim Ballard, a former government agent who left his job and successfully helped facilitate the rescue of 123 individuals, including 55 children.

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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