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Federal Police raid against smugglers and human traffickers

Photo: Lars Berg / DER SPIEGEL

Wednesday morning at 6:02 a.m., police officers enter a house in the Steele district of Essen, arresting 38-year-old Syrian Abdulhanan A.. He had applied for asylum in Germany in 2021 and was accommodated by a relative. At 6 a.m., the task force moves up on its doorstep. Shortly thereafter, the officers storm up a narrow staircase through a narrow, wood-paneled staircase and enter an attic apartment.

The raids in the morning were part of a police operation – codenamed "Yolcu", Turkish for "passenger" – with which forces across Europe attacked a Kurdish smuggling network. In Germany, in addition to the search in North Rhine-Westphalia, there were others in Nauen (Brandenburg) and Regensburg (Bavaria).

Arrests also in Romania

Also in the Romanian city of Timisoara, one of the hubs of human smuggling on the Balkan route, there were four arrests and several apartment searches, 70 officers were deployed here. A total of 11 objects were searched there, three cars were sealed, twelve refugees who were to be taken to the West were found. Last week, one person was arrested in Bulgaria.

The gang is said to have organized smuggling tours and dragged more than 560 people to Germany. Another 300 people were brought to Romania. Sometimes it went from Serbia via Hungary to Austria, sometimes from Serbia to Romania and on to Slovakia or Poland. The refugees mostly hid in the cargo hold of trucks, crouched between the cargo in locked containers, in which the risk of suffocation is particularly great.

The Federal Police Headquarters in Potsdam is in charge of the case with a specially set up investigation team that works closely with investigators in Turkey, Austria and in the European coordination unit Europol in The Hague. In addition, Germany has set up a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) with Serbia and Romania since December.

This means that the police units of the three countries involved in the case can exchange their results quickly, without costly requests for legal assistance. The prosecution of suspected gang members in Germany is handled by the Landshut public prosecutor's office.

Commercials on Tiktok

The first smuggling cases assigned to the group date back to the beginning of 2021. On the social media service Tiktok, the smugglers openly advertised illegal entry into the EU, especially among Kurds in Turkey and Syria, and posted videos of successful tours on the Internet. Per capita, the gang probably collected 5000 to 7000 euros.

As early as July 2022, the Serbian police had arrested an alleged perpetrator from the middle level of the organization. The Syrian, who has now been arrested in Essen, is suspected of having procured drivers from Germany for human smuggling across the Serbian-Romanian border. He had apparently been able to find at least two in Regensburg, hence the investigations in Bavaria. A suspect in Nauen was not found.