A joint operation involving police from Belgium and France has broken up a gang accused of human trafficking and forcing its victims, including children, to go out begging on the streets, Europol reports.
The organised crime gang also adults to present forged documents in order to illegally claim social security benefits.
The crackdown was carried out by French police and officers of the Brussels-West police zone (Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Ganshoren, Jette and Koekelberg), under the coordination of Europol, the European police agency.
They raided seven addresses in the zone and arrested 13 suspects, as well as taking 15 minors into care.
The joint investigation has been under way since 2018. At the same time as the Brussels raids, French police also moved in on members of the network in Paris and Lyon.
Property seized included seized forged ID cards and passports, counterfeit birth and marriage certificates, mobile devices, gold jewellery and evidence of money transfers.
“The gang facilitated the illegal entry into Europe of Syrian migrants and supplied them with counterfeit documents to fraudulently apply for asylum and social benefits,” Europol said in a statement.
“The fraudulent activities estimated at over €250,000 per family consisted of registering the same children under false identities several times to earn more social benefits in France and Belgium.”
The gang also exploited their victims by providing them with forged documents to allow them to stay in Europe, as well as accommodation in exchange for payment. Money for rent and food would be raised by the children begging on the streets while the criminals took the benefit payments for themselves.
The gang is suspected of making a profit of €5 million from its victims, at an estimated €3,000 a week per family.
“The investigation is ongoing, and more arrests are likely to follow,” a spokesperson for the Brussels-West zone told Bruzz.