European police have arrested 103 people in 10 countries, all accused of smuggling people on boats, freight trains and small hidden compartments in the floors of buses and trucks.
The huge operation deployed 1,200 police officers and descended on homes and properties across Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Slovak Republic, Turkey and Kosovo in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to CNN. Other related operations took place in Switzerland and Austria.
The raids turned up 176,500 euros (around $240,000) in cash, as well as cellphones, laptops, bank statements and a semiautomatic rifle with a large amount of ammunition.
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"All arrested persons are suspected of being involved in the clandestine smuggling of a large number of irregular migrants into and within the European Union mainly via Turkey and the Western Balkan region," a Europol statement said.
The crackdown on people smuggling has uncovered a chronic problem for European authorities when people desperate to escape poverty and conflict in their home countries put their lives in the hands of organized crime gangs, reported The New York Times. Interpol said this type of trafficking is a high-profit, low-risk business for transnational criminal organizations.
"People smuggling syndicates are drawn by the huge profits that can be made, while benefiting from weak legislation and the relatively low risk of detection, prosecution and arrest," the international police organization said.
According to Reuters, these traffickers specialized in bringing migrants from the Middle East, especially Libya, Syria and Iraq, to Europe for thousands of euros per person.
The migrants, including children, were crammed into small spaces on buses, trucks and ships, and were sometimes made to hike through forests in the winter to cross borders. Some of the migrants died en route, including one incident when 16 drowned in the Tisza river near the Hungarian-Serbian border in 2009.