German police arrested 19 people believed to be Syrian, Lebanese and Libyan on suspicion of smuggling migrants into Germany, mostly from Syria.
Prosecutors in the southern state of Bavaria said the suspects, aged between 21 and 44, were a professional gang who brought migrants to Germany in vans using the so-called Balkan route from Turkey and Greece to Austria.
The suspected smugglers, who face charges of human trafficking, had since at least April 2019 brought to Germany about 140 migrants in exchange for large sums of money, the prosecutors said.
Germany is home to more than 800,000 Syrians who fled the civil war in their country. Their numbers peaked in 2015, when a record of one million people entered Germany seeking asylum.
Thousands of Syrian live in refugee camps in Greece, Turkey and Lebanon, where many dream of a new life in Europe, making those who have money easy prey for smugglers.
Federal police discovered the gang in August 2019 when smugglers driving migrants in vans were arrested on a highway in the south on the border with Austria.
Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Belgium as well as Europol were involved in an investigation that led to the arrest of the gang’s chief in Austria in December. Germany is seeking his extradition.
More than 400 police officers and investigators took part in Tuesday’s raids in the German states of Berlin, Lower Saxony, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia.