German authorities say they have carried out raids, targeting a far-reaching network of people smugglers, in three states. The network is accused of organizing fake air travel documents for asylum seekers.
The dawn raids took place Wednesday morning in multiple cities across three states: North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Baden-Württemburg. Investigators searched 24 sites, involving more than 570 federal police supported by local officials. Police in the northern city of Hanover and the state prosecutor's office in nearby Hildesheim said machetes, swords and handgun ammunition were among the items discovered.
In total, 17 suspects were picked up including the network's alleged head, a 24-year-old man who was arrested in the western city of Essen.
The smugglers had allegedly worked to bring people to Germany, mainly by plane, using fake identity cards and forged documents. They are believed to have charged about 10,000 euros ($11,000) per person, which had to be paid in advance. Most of the people who were offered their services were Syrian or Lebanese.
However, many of the asylum seekers didn't reach their goal destinations because their documents were discovered to be phony along the way, German news agency DPA reported.
Germany is facing a massive influx of people seeking refuge from war and poverty this year, with authorities expecting about a million applications for asylum. Most arrive over land via the Balkans following perilous sea journeys to Greece from Turkey, with many of those border crossings also orchestrated by smugglers.
Earlier this week, DPA quoted the president of Germany's BND intelligence agency, Gerhard Schindler, as expressing concerns about a sophisticated international network working to smuggle asylum seekers from Afghanistan.
Raid in French coastal city
In France, an unrelated raid saw authorities detain eight people who were accused of being involved in a smuggling ring to transport migrants to Britain using rubber boats from the northern city of Dunkirk.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Wednesday that smugglers were charging up to 12,000 euros ($13,100) for the trip across the English Channel. Cazeneuve said French authorities had dismantled 200 networks and detained more than 3,000 people in investigating human trafficking so far this year.
Thousands of people fleeing war and poverty have been camping out in French port cities in the hope of getting to Britain aboard trains, trucks or boats.
se/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)