Multinational INTERPOL Campaign Makes Over 1,000 Arrests for Human Trafficking, Migrant Smuggling

Originally published July 27, 2023 2:00 pm PDT

In a groundbreaking joint operation, INTERPOL and AFRIPOL have made over 1,000 arrests worldwide, revealing thousands of victims of human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

The international campaign, dubbed Operation “FLASH-WEKA,” witnessed the concerted efforts of law enforcement agencies across 54 countries to dismantle criminal networks involved in human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

“Human trafficking and migrant smuggling are often part of a wider and more complex criminal chain,” INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock stated in a press release. “This is why close cooperation between INTERPOL and AFRIPOL is so important in uniting our resources to dismantle these networks and ultimately identify and rescue thousands of unsuspecting victims.”

The operation, which took place in two phases between May and June, utilized INTERPOL’s global criminal databases, enabling local law enforcement to cooperate effectively with INTERPOL and AFRIPOL to intercept transnational criminals.

FLASH-WEKA exposed an alarming trend of online recruitment through e-commerce platforms, with criminal networks identified in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Mali.

Intelligence-led police raids rescued numerous victims, including 15 suspected trafficking victims, all men from Sri Lanka, following intelligence received in Sierra Leone via INTERPOL.

“The real strength of FLASH-WEKA lies in the tight union between our two Organizations and member countries which together form a formidable alliance against the forces of darkness that exploit people’s hopes and aspirations,” noted AFRIPOL Executive Director Jalel Chelba.

Operation FLASH-WEKA also aimed to prevent migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean toward Europe.

In a prominent case, eight Moroccan men were intercepted with a rubber boat and life jackets preparing for an illicit crossing to Spain.

Furthermore, many of the cases uncovered during FLASH-WEKA involved victims from Asia, particularly Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

A stark example emerged in Angola, where seven Vietnamese women, recruited online with promises of work in hotels and beauty salons, were saved from their trafficker who forced them into the sex industry.

“Through better intelligence sharing, collaborative efforts by law enforcement agencies and comprehensive victim support, we aim to dismantle the networks that profit from the desperation of others,” Mr. Chelba added.

Other organizations, including Europol, IOM, and ROCK (Regional Operational Center in Khartoum in support of the Khartoum Process and AU-Horn of Africa initiative), also supported FLASH-WEKA.

INTERPOL and AFRIPOL’s initiative marks a significant stride in combating global human trafficking and migrant smuggling, highlighting the importance of international cooperation and effective intelligence sharing to dismantle these criminal networks and save thousands of victims.

Former U.S. President Donald J. Trump has pledged to call on Congress “to end the scourge of human trafficking and defend the dignity of human life” by mandating the death penalty for human traffickers.

“I will urge Congress to ensure that anyone caught trafficking children across our border receives the death penalty immediately,” President Trump said in a press release. “I will use Title 42 to end the child trafficking crisis by returning all trafficked children to their families in their home countries and without delay, and I will urge Congress to ensure that anyone caught trafficking children across our border receives the death penalty immediately and that includes also for women, because women as you know are number one in trafficking. Children are actually number two.”

“Under my leadership, we did more than any administration in history to combat human trafficking and to end modern day slavery,” he explained. “In one of my first acts in office, I signed an executive order targeting transnational criminal organizations that traffic and exploit innocent people. I signed the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act, authorizing $430 million to fight sex and labor trafficking.”