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Spain police break up Moroccan migrant smuggling ring


An alleged people trafficking network which "operated like a travel agency" and smuggled around 600 Moroccans into Spain by sea this year was foiled by Spanish police, authorities said on Monday.

The ring recruited its "customers" mainly in the northern Moroccan city of Larache, charging "at least" 2,500 euros ($2,825) per person for the dangerous crossing, police said in a statement.

"The organisation operated like a sort of travel agency" which took the migrants to Spain, picked them up from the coast and then transported them by car to "safe houses".

From there, they took them to their desired destination in the country, usually in Catalonia or the northern Basque Country, the statement added.

Police arrested seven suspected leaders of the ring, including its Moroccan-based chief, who was charged with recruiting migrants as part of the operation.

The network smuggled around 600 migrants into Spain this year, earning at least 1.5 million Euros, the statement added.

Spain has seen growing numbers of migrants after Italy began to stem the flow of sea arrivals from Libya last year. 

The International Organisation for Migration says that more than 55,000 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea this year, and that at least 743 have died or gone missing trying, making it the main entry point for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

Moroccan authorities say that between January and the end of September they stopped some 68,000 illegal attempts to cross into Europe and took down 122 people smuggling gangs.

Increasing numbers of Moroccans and sub-Saharan migrants are seeking to enter Spain, either by sea or by smuggling themselves into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which are in Morocco and are the only European territories in Africa.

Last month, Morocco's navy found the bodies of 15 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa on board a boat stranded at sea for days and rescued 53 survivors, a military source said.

Coastguards recovered "15 lifeless corpses" from the vessel in the Mediterranean Sea after it was left drifting for four days following engine failure on its way to Spain, the source said.

The 53 other survivors on board, including eight women, were taken to the port of Nador.