Eleven arrested for smuggling migrants from Greece to Northern Europe

 A Greek-Belgian investigation supported by Europol and Eurojust has led to the dismantling of a criminal network that smuggled migrants by air from Athens to Northern Europe. The operation, which involved the Belgian Federal Police (Federale Politie/Police Fédérale) and Public Prosecutor’s office of Halle-Vilvoorde, and the Hellenic Police (Ελληνική Αστυνομία) and the Court of Athens, was also assisted by Norwegian and Swedish authorities.

The action day on 13 November 2023 led to:

  • 11 arrests (8 in Belgium, 2 in Greece and 1 in Sweden)  
  • 16 location searches (12 in Belgium and 4 in Greece) 
  • 2 travel agencies searched in Athens (included above)
  • Seizure of phones, other electronic devices and digital evidence, two boxes with forged passports and almost EUR 200 000 in cash

Migrants paid at least EUR 5 000 – EUR 6000 to reach Norway from Greece

The criminal network, mainly composed of Egyptian and Syrian nationals, has been operating since January 2022, facilitating the illegal secondary movements of migrants from Greece to Northern Europe, mainly Norway, through Belgium. The suspects facilitated the transport of migrants via legitimate travel agencies, while also having connections with forgers to supply migrants with fake travel identification documents. 

The smugglers arranged for irregular migrants to travel from Athens to Brussels Airport Zaventem and Brussels South Gosselies. The migrants used genuine passports, presenting themselves as the real owners of the documents – what is called ‘look-alike’ document fraud. After the migrants arrived in Brussels, members of the criminal network provided the migrants with fake Romanian or Bulgarian travel documents and sometimes a short stay in the Brussels area. 

The migrants subsequently continued their journey directly or via Sweden to Norway. A member of the criminal network would accompany the group of migrants as far as Brussels and then return to Athens. The migrants paid at least EUR 5 000 - EUR 6 000 per person via the Hawala underground banking system, depending on the quality of the fake documents and additional smuggling services.

In May 2023, Eurojust set up a joint investigation team between Belgium, Greece and Europol to facilitate the judicial cooperation.