The European Union (EU)’s police agency, Europol, has arrested nearly 400 people during raids targeting child trafficking suspects in a number of European countries.
Europol said in a statement on Nov. 4 that during the raids—coordinated with Britain, Portugal, Spain, and nine other EU countries—at least 388 people were arrested and 249 potential victims were identified, of whom 61 were confirmed to be minors.
The operations, carried out in the first half of October, targeted organized groups that smuggled children across European borders for sexual or labor exploitation as well as begging.
Europol said the children were also forced to commit crimes such as smuggling drugs and illicit goods.
“These criminal organizations, connected through large clan networks, operate in several countries and move the children on a rotational basis,” Europol said, adding that victims included minors who were refugees from non-EU countries.
The agency said that the coronavirus pandemic had also benefited child pornographers, cybercriminals, and online scammers across the continent.
“Criminals quickly exploited the pandemic to attack vulnerable people … to sell items they claim will prevent or cure COVID-19,” Europol said.
“Lockdowns in the early stages of the pandemic encouraged a spike in child sexual abuse, often through dark web forums where individuals gain entry by recording and posting their abuse of children, encouraging others to do the same,” it added.
Moreover, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the pandemic “has slowed many aspects of our normal lives but it has unfortunately accelerated online criminal activity.”
Johansson added that, “Organized crime exploits the vulnerable, be it the newly unemployed, exposed businesses, or, worst of all, children.”
Most of the refugees arriving in Europe are the nationals of Middle Eastern countries who have been displaced by conflict, often instigated by Western states.
Between 2015-2016, thousands of people made the journey from Turkey across the Mediterranean Sea to the Greek Island of Lesbos, hoping to find safety in Europe.
In the recent past, EU nations have offered to resettle some of those people, but they have remained divided over who should accept how many, if any at all. (PressTV.com)