MADRID (AP) — Police in Spain and Morocco say they have arrested 10 people allegedly involved in human trafficking across the Strait of Gibraltar, including bringing Nigerian women to Europe for sexual slavery.
Spanish police said in a statement on Tuesday that one of the suspects arrested in Morocco is alleged to have operated more than 40 migrant boats across the Mediterranean since 2008, making him one of the most prominent traffickers in what is known as the Western Mediterranean migration route.
Thousands of African migrants risk their lives each year to reach Europe by jumping the heavily guarded fence enclosing the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla or by paying smugglers to hide them in vehicles or take them across the sea by boat.
Some 16,936 migrants arrived in Spain from African countries In 2015, according to the latest figures disclosed by the Interior Ministry. Many of them end up in human trafficking rings that hold their debts.
After a year-long investigation, Spanish agents detained seven Nigerians in the eastern coastal town of Torrevieja in April 2016, where police say they found evidence of sexual slavery involving at least 39 women.
The women were forced into prostitution for more than 12 hours every day, seven days per week, and were subjected to punishment and fines that increased their debt with the traffickers, the police said.
The investigation continued after the initial arrests and led agents to three more suspects operating between Nigeria and Morocco who allegedly were in charge of finding the women and smuggling them into Europe by sea and land. The police didn't say when the latest detentions took place.
According to the police, the main suspect lived between the Moroccan cities of Rabat and Tanger and used his influence in the Nigerian community in Morocco to get access to engines and dinghies used to send hundreds of migrants across the Mediterranean sea.