German police bust refugee-smuggling ring

A group of 30 refugees boarding a plane for Luxembourg at Athens airport on Wednesday. They were the first to be relocated from Greece under fiercely contested plans by the European Union to share nearly 160,000 migrants.
A group of 30 refugees boarding a plane for Luxembourg at Athens airport on Wednesday. They were the first to be relocated from Greece under fiercely contested plans by the European Union to share nearly 160,000 migrants. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BERLIN • German police have broken up an international ring of people smugglers whose members used falsified documents to bring foreigners into Germany, mainly by air, for a fee of up to €10,000 (S$15,300) per person.

A police statement said that 17 suspected members of the ring had been arrested in raids in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Baden-Wuerttemberg. The ring provided foreign nationals, mostly Syrians and Lebanese, with falsified documents such as residency permits and travel documents.

The smugglers came to the attention of the authorities after a 10-member Lebanese family en route to Germany through Malaysia on falsified documents was arrested at Kuala Lumpur airport, which was used by the criminal ring as a transit port. The family was allowed to continue on to Germany on humanitarian grounds after it contacted the United Nations refugee office and the German embassy in KL.

The main suspect is a 24-year-old man who was arrested in the western city of Essen.

In Greece, the first refugees left under the second phase of a troubled plan to divide up migrants among European Union members, while Sweden asked for EU help to relocate some of the migrants it has taken in as it struggles with record numbers of new arrivals.

Thirty refugees were given a VIP send-off from Athens airport before flying to Luxembourg, where they will begin a new life. They are the first to be relocated from Greece under fiercely contested plans to share nearly 160,000 migrants.

At the airport, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that the six Syrian and Iraqi families were "a drop in the ocean, but we hope the drop will become a stream and then a river of humanity".

His remarks came after Mr Fabrice Leggeri, head of the EU's Frontex border agency, said 800,000 people had entered the EU illegally this year, telling Germany's Bild newspaper the influx had probably not "reached its peak".

In Stockholm, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said he wanted EU help to relocate some of the refugees it had taken in.

"Sweden has taken a disproportionately large responsibility in comparison with other countries in the EU, and now we are extremely strained," he said in a statement. The country of 9.8 million is expecting to receive up to 190,000 asylum seekers this year - putting it among the EU states with the highest proportion of refugees per capita.

As the crisis bites, several European countries have closed their borders, with Austria becoming the latest country to propose tightening its asylum rules. Its lawmakers have tabled a Bill proposing that anyone granted asylum would be reassessed after three years and sent back home if their country of origin was deemed safe.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2015, with the headline 'German police bust refugee-smuggling ring'. Print Edition | Subscribe