Police in Spain and France have smashed a criminal ring suspected of smuggling hundreds of Palestinians into Europe through fraudulent asylum claims, Spanish police said on Sunday.
Officers arrested nine people, including the suspected leader of the network, in the two countries as part of the operation carried out with European police agency Europol, a Spanish police statement said.
Police suspect since January 2018 the group flew around 1,200 Palestinians living in Middle Eastern countries via Bolivia to Madrid, where they would then make a “fraudulent asylum request”.
“Instead of continuing with the administrative procedures related to their asylum request, they were transported by the organisation to Belgium and Germany in minivans,” the statement said.
The ring charged around 8,000 euros ($9,000) per person to provide them with fake travel documents issued to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and organise the trip, earning at least 9 million euros ($10.2 million) with the scheme.
Five people were arrested in Spain and four in France. Police said the group’s “main base of operations” was in the northern French city of Amiens.
Spanish police started their investigation after detecting an increase in the number of Palestinians requesting asylum at Madrid airport.