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Arrests made in Spain after trafficking bust

A human trafficking ring that smuggled Chinese migrants into Europe and the United States has been dismantled and 75 people have been arrested in Spain and France, Spanish police said on Saturday.

Arrests made in Spain after trafficking bust

Spanish and French police said Saturday they have dismantled a human trafficking ring that smuggled Chinese migrants into Europe and the United States, charging up to 50,000 euros per person.

A total of 75 suspects including two "main operatives" based in Barcelona were arrested, including 51 in Spain and 24 in France after a two-year joint investigation, a police statement said.

The traffickers charged 40,000 to 50,000 euros ($53,000 to $66,000) per person to provide "false identities and transport Chinese citizens to the United States and countries such as Spain, France, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Turkey," the statement said.

In some cases the ring was involved in the sexual exploitation of migrants, it added.

Spanish police seized 81 fake passports from Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The investigation into the ring, described as "complex", began in July 2011.

"The composition of this perfectly structured, hierarchical organisation, with its kingpin in China and independent cells operating in different countries, completely shut off from each other, complicated the investigation," the police statement said.

The traffickers accompanied their clients all the way from China to Spain, "the last stop (serving as a) trampoline to the final destination, usually the United Kingdom or the United States," it said.

The operatives, mainly from China and Malaysia, had the "complete confidence" of the ringleaders and were "thorough connaisseurs of the European airports and cities along the route of the transfers," the statement said.

Once their mission was accomplished they would return home immediately, "in order to make it more difficult to track them," police said.

Upon the migrants' arrival in Barcelona, operatives of the trafficking ring would meet them and take them to safe houses before they embarked on the next leg of their journey.

The route taken from China, as well as the travel documents used, "changed constantly according to the successes and failures of previous trips… or in order to prevent discovery of the traffickers," the statement said.

The migrants were given precise instructions on how to avoid detection at customs controls, for example by mixing in with a group of tourists.

The two top officials were arrested in Barcelona, while another 49 suspects were picked up in Spanish airports including those of Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga and Mallorca, plus another 24 in France.

The 81 fake passports were found in two lodgings owned by the ring in Barcelona.

There police also found equipment for forging documents including portable computers, scanners, around 20 fake customs stamps and an electronic magnifier.

Police also provided pictures of a firearm, cellphones and wads of cash, both euros and yuan, that were seized in the operation.

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Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

In Sweden, a sambo is domestic partner – someone you’re in a relationship with and live with, but to whom you aren’t married. If you, as a non-EU citizen, are in a sambo relationship with a Swedish citizen, you can apply for a residence permit on the basis of that relationship. But meeting the requirements of that permit is not always straightforward.

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

How do relationships qualify for sambo status?

In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

What are the maintenance requirements for a sambo permit?

The maintenance requirements for someone applying for a sambo permit fall on the Swedish partner, who must prove that they are able to support both themselves and their partner for the duration of the permit. This includes both housing and financial requirements.

In terms of residential standards that applicants must meet, they must show that they live in a home of adequate size – for two adult applicants without children, that means at least one room with a kitchen. If rented, the lease must be for at least one year.

The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

Can you apply on the basis of savings instead of income?

Well, this is unclear. The Migration Agency’s website does suggest that having enough money saved up to support both members of the sambo relationship is an option, but it gives no details on how to document this. It is also unclear whether applying on the basis of savings will disadvantage applicants, with preference given to applicants who can show proof of income from work.

The Local has reached out to an immigration lawyer to answer this question. 

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