A Migrant Smuggling Clan Is Broken Up in Germany: “The Hydra Is Alive”

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The prognosis? Not good. It is considered likely that other human traffickers will quickly fill the vacuum created by the recent capture of the Kurds. Since the beginning of the year, the number of migrants seeking to make the crossing has exploded. From January to the end of June, France counted 22,758 people who were seeking to cross the English Channel from northern France, an increase of 82 percent relative to the same period last year. From 2019 to 2021, the annual number has risen tenfold, from 3,352 per year to 36,763. Plus, the size of the boats being used is growing, as is the number of people packed aboard. Just a few years ago, each rubber raft carried an average of 12 people, but now it is almost 30. Investigators say that the traffickers earn a net profit of up to 75,000 euros per crossing.

Why England? And why the boats? The language is a significant factor, say investigators, since many refugees speak English and many of them, officials say, have family members who have already settled in Britain. Another factor is Brexit: British officials can no longer simply send illegal arrivals back to the first EU country they entered.

And it is simple to have cheap boats made in China delivered to Germany, or to buy them directly from German vendors. France, by contrast, has begun strictly regulating the sale of certain boats and motors: When purchasing such equipment in northern France, an ID and telephone number is required, while large sellers, like sporting retailer Decathlon, have completely removed such items from their shelves. French officials complain that the lack of such regulations in Germany makes things far easier for the human smugglers.

The French were also not amused by an incident that took place last October. As French investigative files show, German federal police forces arrested two men in Lower Saxony just as they were loading suspicious cargo into a delivery van. The officers found five motors, hundreds of life jackets and nine inflatable boats, which the police initially suspected had been stolen. But when a courier showed up the next day with an invoice and a delivery address in Paris, the Germans let the men go and returned the maritime cargo to them. Apparently, none of the German police officers even considered the possibility that the delivery might be connected to human trafficking.

A few days after the release of the men from Lower Saxony, one of their motors made another appearance – mounted on a refugee boat that had just reached the coast of England. The weekly magazine Paris Match published a story on the incident, and the French interior minister also briefed the National Assembly, France’s parliament.

German investigators were furious. On the one hand, sensitive information from an investigation had found its way into the pages of the French press. On the other, German officials have long felt as though they were being scapegoated for a problem that they think must be solved between France and Britain. The issue reached the highest political circles in Berlin, and in late November of 2021, the French interior minister invited his German counterpart at the time, Horst Seehofer, to northern France – but in a slight, Seehofer only sent his parliamentary state secretary. Ultimately, the heads of the two countries’ federal police forces met in January, and the climate has improved since then, say sources in the German Interior Ministry.

An Act of Vengeance

And it was about time. With the attack against Xamgin M. in Osnabrück on Nov. 13, the smugglers’ war had reached Germany. Until that point, the clans had been able to quietly establish southwestern Lower Saxony as the network’s most important logistics hub, and virtually without interference. Key figures in that hub were firmly rooted in the local Kurdish community. It was only after the attack that German prosecutors launched two separate proceedings. The Osnabrück police department was in charge of the investigation into the murder, while the Federal Police took the lead in the human smuggling investigation. The result was a taskforce including customs officers and other officials from Osnabrück. Code name: “Channel.”

Investigators were able to find their way around a potential hurdle presented by German law, according to which the German Federal Police does not have jurisdiction over smuggling activities that involve transfers from inside the EU to locations outside the bloc. But because many of the refugees ending up on the French Atlantic coast had traveled through Germany, German officials were able to get involved. They monitored telephones, installed hidden cameras and conducted surveillance on suspects.

One key step, though, came in January when officials from the Channel taskforce joined with a Europol taskforce in which France, Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands were already cooperating. The partners had requested mutual legal assistance from Berlin, envisioning a situation where Germany could provide information for legal proceedings in other countries, which would then result in international arrest and search warrants. And that would enable the German police to take action in Germany as well.

As the investigators were able to learn, the attack on Xamgin M. in Osnabrück was likely an act of vengeance between competing gangs. Several months prior to the murder, M. is thought to have carried out an attack in France against a rival with the clan alias of “NATO.” The victim was a nephew of the Kurdish smuggler boss Mirkham A. Although his nephew survived the attack, the boss felt the need to take revenge.

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