This is the first in a series of 3 articles of months of investigations into the activities of an international human trafficking ring based in Ukraine. The article reveals harrowing tales of hundreds of immigrants from Africa, Syria and Afghanistan who are illegally transported into the European Union via Ukraine by these criminal gangs who can either kill them or abandon them at border crossings.
FROM AFGHANISTAN WITH LOVE
By Taras Zozulinsky and Paa Kwesi Plange
Thirty-seven Afghans and Syrians found themselves in the mountains without any means of communication. To warm up a little, they lit a fire. The children cried, the women no longer had the strength to walk. They had not eaten or drank for several days. The men started shouting and calling for help. Half an hour later, Slovak police and border guards came hearing the screams. The Afghans simply did not have the strength to cross the mountain and dissolve into Slovakia.
A long way to Europe
This channel has been operating for many years. In the register of court decisions you can read a significant number of cases in which carriers are involved. These carriers receive conditional terms. The organizers and leaders at all levels continue to work. The channel is active.
For Afghans, the road to Europe begins in their country. The management of the Ukrainian channel has its accomplices here. They are called "guarantors". They receive money from illegal migrants. Everything is transparent. These people are actually the local Afghan mafia. They keep huge sums of money and guarantee - when their compatriots will be in Europe - to transfer the money to the Ukrainian organizers of the channel. In essence it is the Afghans in Europe – who as guarantors transfer money to Ukrainians. If illegal migrants are caught at the border, the money is not transferred.
The work of the Ukrainian channel actually begins in Russia. Officially and legally, Afghans arrive here as tourists. Ukrainians and their Russian allies are transporting Afghans across the Russian-Ukrainian border. Therefore, Afghans are already entering Ukraine illegally.
Through our investigations, we discovered that small groups of Afghans were transported to a place called Kharkiv. The local cell of the cross-border canal here would be responsible for looking for temporary housing for them, providing them with food, and instructing them on the future path.
Another cell in a place called Zhytomyr would then transport groups of Afghans of 4-7 people by truck. The groups are small - in case the police detained - so as not to detain everyone.
Cars are usually accompanied by trucks. Lower-level leaders go ahead for reconnaissance, warning truck drivers about police posts and how to bypass them.
A group of Afghans and Syrians - 38 people - formed in the forest of Zhytomyr region. Here they lived for several days at the recreation center, waiting for the next driver - from the Transcarpathian cell. Actually, this driver is the only one who was tried in this case. After all, he did not hand over anyone from his team.
The driver was local, but lived in Transcarpathia for a long time. Given the organization of the process - the channel was not functioning for the first day.
The driver arrived in a MAN truck. It was a refrigerator for carrying cow carcasses. 38 illegals were driven into this refrigerator like cattle.
The Afghans said breathing was difficult because the refrigerator truck had no vents. When the children started crying, the illegals drew the attention of the driver by knocking the truck - out of desperation. Then the driver turned on the air conditioner in the refrigerator to maintain the temperature of the cow carcasses to prevent it from thawing. Afghans mentioned that freezing conditions in the truck when the air conditioners were turn on was terrible. However, at least there was little to breathe. In such conditions, they drove more than a day. They only stop when the accompanying cars notice the police.
Afghans and Syrians say that on the back way the refrigerator pick up to a huge hangar. Here they saw seven men of strong physique in tracksuits. The "athletes" wore black masks on their heads. Therefore, the Afghans could not later recognize anyone.
"Athletes" searched illegal immigrants in the hangar. They took away all valuables and money. Some had their mobile phones confiscated. Although the driver of the refrigerator searched them in the Zhytomyr region, many managed to bury their mobile phones.
Two masked men had special portable metal detectors. Those Afghans whose phones were found were beaten. Illegals say that all the way - from Afghanistan, and to the Transcarpathian region they were treated well. But the physical abuse and ordeal begin in the hangar.
The driver of the refrigerator said that the hangar was in Uzhgorod. Although – he could not "remember" the address.
The Afghans stayed in the hangar for several hours. They were taken away by Sprinter minibuses in small groups.
And then - taken to the place of the next gathering - at the foot of the mountain - in a wooded area. Here again the number of the whole group is 38 people. The illegals said that the "athletes" passed them directly to another group of accomplices. There were five of them, they were the guides. They were dressed in camouflage uniforms. There were also masks on their heads.
Illegals went in the mountains to Slovakia - Chop direction. Afghans and Syrians recall being severely beaten. And then constantly hurried. It was difficult for the illegals to move. Those who lagged behind the group continued to be beaten.
Not only men but also women with children were beaten. When the children began to cry, they were forced to drink alcohol.
There was a woman in the group who no longer had the strength to move. One of the guidea led her back, promising his son that he would transport the Afghan woman the next day. But this guide returned a few hours later - alone. A group of illegals did not see this woman again. What happened to her is still unknown.
One of the Afghans said that while walking through the forest they came across a fence with barbed wire. The leaders cut through it and literally forced the whole group to crawl through it.
After crossing the border, the group walked for several more hours. The children were screaming, the women were crying. The illegals said they had not eaten for several days. So they were exhausted and could not go on. Then the leaders left them in the forest and returned having shown - in what direction to go further.
The Afghans who were freezing at this point, gathered some sticks and lit a fire and began to call for help. Later, Slovak border guards came. They called the police.
The illegal immigrants simply did not have the strength to walk a few kilometers to find themselves in a village in Slovakia.
Within hours, the illegals were handed over to Ukrainian border guards. Subsequently, Afghans were deported from Ukraine. The days of horror for them are over. And they began to live in new realities. Without money and savings. After all, formally, they had been transported to the European Union even though they find themselves back in Afghanistan being about 10 thousand dollars poorer.
Тарас Зозулінський (Україна), Paa Kwesi Plange (Ghana)
"This article was developed with the support of the Money Trail Project (www.money-trail.org)”