Stricter border control leads to dismantling of human trafficking network

Just as Portugal’s border police reinforce their presence at Faro and Lisbon airports for the summer months, news emerged this week that an international human trafficking network involving 11 countries and using Portugal as a gateway for African women to enter the European prostitution market has been brought down. Seven people, including a Portuguese lawyer, have been arrested in Portugal in connection with the case.
A “complex” human trafficking network that smuggled African women – some of them underage and most of Nigerian nationality – into Portugal to then be sold into prostitution in other European countries has been dismantled by the national border control and immigration authority (SEF), which since the beginning of summer have reinforced their presence at Lisbon and Faro airports to strengthen border security.
Seven people believed to be related to the network, including a Portuguese lawyer, have been arrested. The nationalities of the other six suspects have not been confirmed.
Police have revealed that a “foreign man” was arrested for presenting a fake passport during a house search as part of the investigation, which included a total of 52 SEF inspectors working on the case for more than a year.
Transfer receipts for large amounts of money and other documents that suggest criminal activity were also confiscated during the searches.
The human trafficking network’s modus operandi to bring women into Europe to be exploited sexually was complex and highly organised, police sources revealed.
Members of the network would lure African women into their grasp in their countries of origin and then send them off to Portugal with fake passports.
Once on Portuguese soil, the women would ask for political asylum while a corrupt lawyer associated to the network would take over their case.
After obtaining authorisation to enter Portugal, the women would be placed at the refugee centre of the Portuguese Council for Refugees until a member of the network would contact them to send them off to other European countries, where they would be forced into prostitution.
The women would be provided with new fake IDs so that they could be moved around Europe. While awaiting authorisation to be moved out of the country, some of the victims would also be exploited sexually in Portugal.
According to media reports, the members of the network always acted “very discreetly” in order to stay off the radar of the authorities and some are said to have been asylum seekers themselves once, although no nationalities have been revealed.
The SEF operation came to fruition due to the work of 52 inspectors over more than a year. As the case involved other European countries, SEF was also assisted by two information analysts from Europol – the European Union’s law enforcement agency.
The network’s dismantling has been considered one of the most important human trafficking cases that the SEF has had to deal with so far this year. Equally significant were other cases involving child-trafficking, also from Africa, reported earlier this year.
The Resident wrote about child-traffickers from Angola using Portugal as a gate to Europe. In May, a combined operation by SEF and DIAP (Portugal’s serious crimes squad) succeeded in thwarting an operation trying to sneak children in from Angola, en-route apparently for France. An Angolan man was arrested at Porto’s Sá Carneiro airport, suspected of trying to smuggle three children into Europe.
In January, authorities in Lisbon arrested two Angolan men, in separate incidents, who had travelled several times through the capital’s airport bringing in children they claimed were related to them – all were travelling with false documents.

Clampdown on illegal immigration in Algarve

But SEF inspectors have also been busy carrying out inspections with a view to detecting illegal immigration.
Earlier this month 50 foreigners working in the Algarve were identified by SEF who found that eight were living in the country illegally.
According to the authorities, five of them were asked to visit SEF offices to legalise their stay in the country, while two were asked to leave Portugal voluntarily and another was arrested and faces deportation.
The inspections were carried out in hotels, commercial establishments and construction sites and led to fines of between €2,000 and €10,000 for the companies that were found to be breaking the law.
This is one of many operations being developed by the SEF in order to bring illegal immigration under control.

Stolen passports

Just last year a total of 530 stolen passports were detected in Portuguese airports.
The SEF have thus announced that additional investigators from local delegations have been deployed to Lisbon and Faro airports, which deal with a large number of passengers at this time of year.
National director of SEF Manuel Palos has also announced that the force is looking to hire more inspectors to fill the gaps that affect some of its departments.
Unions representing SEF workers have alerted that there is a serious lack of inspectors, as not one has been hired since 2004.

|| ‘Smart Borders’ to be tested in Portugal

Portugal has volunteered to be one of the EU countries to test a new border control system in 2015 known as ‘Smart Borders’.
The EU’s plan is to create a “more modern and efficient border management by using state-of-the-art technology” to “speed-up, facilitate and reinforce border check procedures for foreigners travelling to the EU”.
The idea is that anyone can sign up and become part of the ‘Registered Traveller Programme’, or RTP. Those who are accepted will then be able to pass through automatic border control stations in Europe’s main border crossing points like airports and country frontiers.
In order to attempt entering the EU through this new system, foreigners will have to: have valid travel documents; have a visa (if demanded), be able to justify their trip and be self-sufficient during its course; and not be considered a threat.
But the goal isn’t just to make things easier.
The new system would record the time and place of entry and exit of third country nationals travelling to the EU, thus calculating the length of the authorised short stay electronically.
If the foreigners do not leave before the expiry date of their authorised stay, an alert will automatically be sent out to national authorities.
One of the only admitted flaws to the system is the possibility of electronic fraud to trick the machines, but even recent tests have shown that the likelihood of it happening is said to be only 0.04%.
By Michael Bruxo [email protected]