The German Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) took the lead on a Europe-wide operation that was aimed at targeting human trafficking from West African countries.
Several European countries participated in raids on brothels and places of prostitution that began Thursday evening and lasted early into the next morning, the EU's law enforcement agency, Europol, revealed on Friday.
The goal of the operation was to identify woman who had been illegally trafficked from West Africa for sexual exploitation in Europe, and to identify the participants in the criminal networks that facilitated the practice.
In Germany, the BKA and 90 local police authorities in 12 German states took part in the raid. Checks were also conducted at German airports.
Authorities in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland joined Germany in conducting checks of brothels, while Spanish and Italian authorities provided support services. The United Kingdom also provided intelligence support and looked further into transit routes.
Europol said that more than 468 West Africans, consisting mainly of women, were checked in the countries involved. The investigation is still ongoing, Europol added.
In its statement, Europol describes an international network of human traffickers, woman forced into prostitution, and people who play supporting roles by laundering money or providing passports or forged documents.
"After being recruited in their home countries, the victims are smuggled to Europe and sent to brothels with forged identity documents," the statement read. "Perpetrators use voodoo, which is also practiced in West Africa, as a means of exerting pressure on their victims, to intimidate them or break their resistance."
Jörg Ziercke, president of the BKA, said coordinated police checks such as the ones carried out Thursday evening are essential.
"The checks show that a transnational compilation of information and coordinated measures to suppress human trafficking are vital for the detection of structures and the successful fight against them," he said in Europol's statement. "Only in this way can the victims’ situation be improved in the long term."
mz/av (AFP, dpa)