It is common for wars to alternate between periods of relative calm and high intensity. This month, it seems as though the war against people smuggling in the Mediterranean is experiencing the latter. A series of unconnected raids and arrests, from Sudan to Bulgaria to the UK, have hit trafficking networks hard.
An operation last week – led by Bulgarian authorities, with support from their Turkish and Serbian counterparts as well as Europol – was a particularly great success. In 624 raids across Europe, police arrested and charged 92 people who are suspected of facilitating the trafficking of hundreds of migrants, often for fees as high as $10,800, from Turkey across the Balkans and into the EU.
On Friday, Tarik Namik, the 45-year-old kingpin of another trafficking network, was arrested in Manchester after arriving on a flight from Istanbul. Namik’s gang allegedly specialises in taking vulnerable migrants across the English Channel, where last year more than 45,000 people illegally crossed from France to the UK in small boats. The UK Home Office estimates that nearly 80 per cent of them were from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Albania, suggesting that a majority are likely to have travelled at some point through the trafficking routes in Turkey and the Balkans.