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German Authorities Shut Down Suspected Migrant Smuggling Ring


One thing is clear about the tide of migrants flowing into Europe. There's money to be made. Yesterday, German police shut down what's believed to have been an international smuggling operation that brought migrants to Germany using false documents. Their fee was about $11,000. Maximilian Popp is a journalist with the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, which just published an investigation into migrant smuggling. And he joins us now. Good morning.

MAXIMILIAN POPP: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about this particular smuggling ring that has just been broken up. What were they doing?

POPP: They do what these rings usually do. They try to bring people, they try to bring refugees to Germany, to Europe, for a lot of money. And what they in particular did was issuing fake passports that allowed refugees from mainly Syria and Iraq to travel by plane to Germany.

MONTAGNE: It appears that Germany is cracking down generally speaking. Yesterday, raids took place in three German states. Seventeen suspects were picked up. Is there going to have much of an impact of the migration?

POPP: I don't think so. The crucial thing to keep in mind is that for refugees, there is no other way. I mean, to claim asylum in Europe you have to reach European territory. But that, for refugees, isn't possible in the legal way. And without this help of the smugglers, there would hardly be an asylum seeker in Europe. And I think that's the dilemma here. And I think that's a fundamental issue that has to be changed and where something has to be done. There has to be legal ways for refugees. Otherwise, they will always have to rely on these services of the smugglers.

MONTAGNE: Right. But is it possible to crack down hard enough on the smuggling rings to make a difference in the number of people who are coming over, especially since borders are being fenced off? Could it actually affect the level of migration?

POPP: I don't think so because the need of the people is so huge. They are so desperate. The migrants are so desperate that they will always find ways. And that creates a huge business. And that creates a huge demand for smugglers. So you crack down on one network, and 10 others will pop up - and especially because, like, in raids we have seen in the past, you usually only reach, like, low-rank criminals. You don't follow up the chain to, like, those who are really running the business. I mean, those people who do organize it, they usually stay in the shadow. So you then reach, like, low-rank criminals who are driving the cars maybe, who are navigating the boats. And of those people, you have thousands out there. So you arrest a few, and, like, others - others will replace them immediately. So this, I think, is rather symbolic action. But that doesn't change anything as long as the asylum system stays as it is.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

POPP: Thank you very much for having me.

MONTAGNE: Maximilian Popp is with Der Spiegel magazine. He spoke to us from Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.