ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek police have dismantled an international migrant trafficking ring that had been using boats to smuggle hundreds of people, mainly Syrians, from Turkey to Greece and Italy, authorities said Thursday.
Police arrested 14 people — eight Greeks, five Syrians and an Iraqi — in Athens and the island of Rhodes on Wednesday, while another 14 were being sought in Turkey, Belgium and Germany, authorities said.
The ring had allegedly been charging between €1,200 and €2,500 in cash per person for transportation from Turkey to Greece, with children charged at half price, authorities said. They said the trafficking ring also had been smuggling migrants from Greece to Italy, and had been providing forged documents.
Greece, whose islands are within easy reach of the Turkish coastline, is the main entry point into Europe for tens of thousands of illegal migrants each year. While many head to other European countries through Italy, thousands of people end up stranded in Greece, where they often face dire conditions as the country struggles through a severe financial crisis.
The government began a crackdown on illegal migrants last year amid a surge in anti-immigrant rhetoric and an increase in racist attacks. Authorities seized a sailboat and a speedboat, and are searching for another three boats the gang was allegedly using. Police also seized many cellphones, sim cards, naval maps, GPS equipment, large amounts of cash and equipment used for making forged documents.
Those arrested included the alleged ringleader and a man who is suspected of handling the gang's finances, both of whom are Syrian, and a Greek who was allegedly responsible for providing vehicles and boats to transport the migrants.
Police said the ring was suspected in at least 10 smuggling attempts that were intercepted in Greece or Turkey over the past year, involving more than 340 migrants. Members of the gang in Istanbul and Izmir in Turkey would locate migrants who wanted to enter Greece and send them to the Turkish coast, from where they would transport them to nearby islands or the Greek mainland aboard boats they either owned or had rented, Greek police said. Ring members also would smuggle migrants from Athens to the western Greek coast, and from there ferry them to Italy.