Syrian trafficking networks “want to start using Portugal”, warns SEF

Portugal’s borders agency SEF has warned that illegal trafficking networks may be ready to start bringing Syrian migrants to Portugal.

Diário de Notícias claims SEF is “worried” that Portugal could start being used by criminal gangs as “a giratory plate” for entry into Europe.

As opposed to bringing migrants in via the sea, networks could start bringing them in overland, explains the paper.

Quoting a senior SEF official, DN says the agency’s fears are centred on migrants being picked up in vans “from places like Calais”.

To this end, Operation Bouquet has been going ahead in collaboration with French authorities, Europol and Eurojust – the structure that coordinates European justice – to crack down on traffickers before vans and trucks reach national soil.

Last week, ten “key figures” in an “important network” trafficking illegal immigrants from India and Pakistan were arrested – at least one of which was detained in Portugal.

Bouquet’s objective, said the paper, was “to prevent these networks dedicating themselves to a new line of business”, namely transporting Syrians.

DN stressed that traffickers “ask anything from €500 to €6000” to bring illegal aliens into Europe. It all depends on choice of destination as to how much people are charged.

“The UK and Germany, for instance, are more expensive than Spain and Portugal”. But “Portugal has a strategic importance”, the SEF source told the paper.

“Many people try to regularize their situation in Portugal before going on to other places in central and northern Europe, where they settle”.

“Our preoccupation, for Portugal and other countries in the EU, is to prevent illegal immigration networks from bringing in Syrian refugees”, he stressed.

Bouquet’s latest arrests went ahead in France, Portugal and Italy last week and follow investigations that have been ongoing for two years.

Last year’s RASI (Portugal’s annual report on internal security) “mentioned” how Portugal was used by people trafficking networks to bring Indians, Pakistanis and Nepalese into the country who then went on to get residence permits on the basis of fraudulent contracts “overwhelmingly” issued by “restaurants, and commercial and agricultural companies”.

Refugee crisis sparks fears over organ trafficking

As Portugal prepares to receive up to 5000 refugees through official channels, the president of Portugal’s transplantation society has warned that the ongoing crisis affecting fleeing populations “could increase the illegal trafficking of organs in Europe”.

Talking in Lisbon on Friday, Fernando Macário said the situation in Portugal is, for now, “residual”.

People needing a transplant who choose trafficked organs “are almost always rich” and “buy from someone in a miserable situation”.

In the main, Portuguese people travel to countries like “the Philippines, China, India and Pakistan” to receive their organs.

Numbers are “very small” – on average only one case per year – due to the fact that “we do not have many people with the capacity and financial means” necessary, and because there is a “reasonable” level of donors in Portugal.

But all this could change “with the wave of refugees in situations of economic hardship”, he warned, stressing “a problem detected in Syrian refugees who had been persuaded to sell their organs in Libya”.

“This new phase” (the arrival of refugees into Portugal) could “lend itself” to more situations where financially-strapped immigrants are persuaded to donate their organs”, he said.

“The weakest link is always the donor, and there are no scruples within the trafficking networks”.

Fernando Macário was speaking at a conference in the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in Lisbon, to mark the World Day for Organ Donation and Transplantation.

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