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Romanian, German Police Crack Major Refugee Trafficking Network

In a joint operation, Romanian and German police on Wednesday raided scores of apartments and hotels in both countries to dismantle what they said was one of the biggest refugee trafficking networks in Europe.
Romanian-Hungarian border. Photo: Zsolt Csegledi/EPA

Romanian and German police and organised crime prosecutors moved on Wednesday in a simultaneous operation to search scores of locations in both countries, to dismantle a refugee trafficking network whose hub was in Timisoara, western Romania.

Romanian organised crime prosecutors said Wednesday’s raid targeted scores of locations, apartments and hotels in Timisoara, where many refugees were accommodated.

The city has been described as a refugee trafficking hub during the past year; the number of refugees from Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries has increased exponentially there since Hungary tightened its border with Serbia.

Investigators said the network brought refugees to Germany from camps in Turkey through Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Hungary and Austria, transporting 45 such groups in 2017.

The migrants each paid the gang 4,000 to 5,000 euros, using the so-called hawala payment method. This involves using a network of brokers in different countries to get the money in one state and then repay the network on the territory of a different state.

Prosecutors said the Romanian-based network worked with counterparts in Serbia and communicated pick-up locations on mobile apps such as Whatsapp or Viber, while avoiding the use of phones in the border area to avoid detection.

All the members of the network members were citizens of Middle Eastern countries, the prosecutors said, without mentioning their nationalities.

According to Romania’s organised crime chief prosecutor, Daniel Horodniceanu, Wednesday’s raids are part of a larger Europol investigation in several European countries, including Britain.

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