Nearly 30,000 suspected people smugglers have been identified by European authorities since the start of the year.
The figure was disclosed by the head of the EU’s law enforcement agency as he said criminal activity is at “very high” levels as gangs attempt to exploit the migrant crisis.
Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, said criminal networks are agile, adopting new tactics such as using social media to recruit victims.
The UK government has repeatedly highlighted the problem of trafficking gangs, a message repeated today as the European migrant crisis continued.
David Cameron said: “I would say the people most responsible are President Assad in Syria and the butchers of Isil and the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people and we need to be tough on them at the same time.”
Tackling the gangs has emerged as a “top priority” for Europol in recent years, Mr Wainwright said.
He said: “Our job is to try and do something about the criminal gangs that are exploiting those conditions and are responsible for exacerbating the problem by recruiting would-be migrants in the first place, giving them false promises about how they can secure their journey to Europe and making an awful lot of money out of it in the process.”
A dedicated intelligence project involving all EU member states has been established to target the perpetrators.
Mr Wainwright said: “Since the start of this year alone we have opened up 1,400 new cases for investigation of facilitators.
“We’ve identified in those cases almost 30,000 suspected people smugglers at different chains, different levels of criminal syndicates.”
He said the cases were initiated by national authorities and sometimes triggered by Europol.
“All of them with cross-border elements, so involving at least two countries, many of them involving multiple countries, and at different levels of scale,” said Mr Wainwright.
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