German and Turkish police on Wednesday announced major coordinated raids against a criminal trafficking network that used unseaworthy ships to send more than 1,700 refugees to Europe.
Police chiefs from both countries told reporters during a press conference at Potsdam, outside Germany’s capital, that the operation was a major strike against international organised crime fuelling the record refugee influx to Europe.
Federal Police Chief Dieter Romann said that at least 490 German police officers and commandos worked together and arrested five suspects across six German states in 17 pre-dawn raids.
His Turkish counterpart Celalettin Lekesiz said that similar raids took place in cities across Turkey; including, Istanbul, Ankara and Mersin, where 30 arrests were made.
The human traffickers allegedly bought three old and decrepit cargo ships in Turkey, loaded each with hundreds of paying refugees and sent the vessels on autopilot toward the Italian coast.
Taking up to $6,000 (5,500 euros) from each of the more than 1,700 people, the traffickers acted "not out of an altruistic desire to aid escapes, but simply to make money," said Romann.
The three dangerous voyages across the Mediterranean allegedly netted the traffickers an estimated $9.5 million, the police chiefs said.
Approximately 1.1 million refugees registered in Germany in 2015, over 400,000 of them were from Syria.
Hosting the most Syrian refugees in the world, according to the registration records of the United Nations, Turkey has spent more than $8 billion of its own resources. There are currently 2.2 million refugees in Turkey.
European Union promised in October as part of a 3 billion euro deal it struck with Turkey to help refugees in the country and limit the flow of refugees into the bloc.