Crackdown on illegal immigration “here to stay”, vows minister

PJ targets “network circulating thousands of illegal migrants throughout Europe”

PJ police backed by SEF foreigners and borders agency and authorities from other countries have been leading a major crackdown today on a criminal network responsible for the free movement in Europe of tens, even hundreds of thousands, of migrants “in an illegal situation”.

The network is run out of various neighbourhoods of Greater Lisbon, explain reports. And it has been facilitated by exploiting a law that is “unique in the Schengen area”.

As such, the 2007 law is seen as putting the whole European Union “at risk, particularly when it comes to terrorism”, says CNN Portugal.

Searches and arrests began early this morning, and have been carried out mainly in the Greater Lisbon area around Martim Moniz, accompanied by foreign authorities, says the media station.

There are said to be around “a dozen suspects, most of them from Southeast Asian countries, from India to Pakistan”.

These suspects allegedly set up a “a scheme to pervert the meaning of the SAPA platform – SEF’s Automatic Pre-Arrangement System” by encouraging hundreds of thousands of online applications and requests for interviews by migrants, on the basis of purported work contracts.

The sheer volume of traffic causes the SEF site to go into a state of ‘pre-rupture’, unable to cope with the number of applicants – and by dint of simply being an applicant, thousands of migrants manage to move freely around Europe on the basis that they are “waiting for interviews with Portuguese authorities”.

The cost of this shoe-in to Schengen Space? Just €1,000, says CNN.

If the immigrants are “caught” in whichever country they end up in, “all they have to do is show their registration on the SAPA platform and, in the worst case scenario, they are forced to return to Portugal” – from which point, they can once again ‘disappear’ and return to ‘circulating freely throughout Europe”.. 

The ruse was detected abroad, says CNN, and because it calls the security of Member States into question, a JIT – Joint Investigation Team – was created, involving authorities from different countries but headed by the PJ and the Portuguese Public Prosecutor’s Office “because the epicentre of the problem is in Lisbon”.

The investigation has been going on for over a year, with this morning’s  operation a first strike on dismantling the network. 

In addition to arresting people believed to be behind the scheme, the PJ has said it intends to find and question hundreds of migrants recruited.

Speaking about the PJ’s work so far, minister for interior administration José Luís Carneiro has stressed there will “be similar processes in the near future.

“It is important to convey this message: practices that constitute criminal offences of aiding illegal immigration and/ or trafficking in human beings must deserve prompt, effective action, which guarantees the safeguarding of the Rule of Law and protects fundamental rights”, he told journalists

“What we have to condemn, and we have to keep a firm hand on, are illegal and irregular practices that seek to unduly overcome instruments set up to support immigration in regular terms,” he emphasised.

José Luís Carneiro also stressed that the ongoing operation shows the government is aware of potentially illegal practices.

“The integration of SEF inspectors into the PJ will – as we will see in the near future – also empower our internal security system to combat illegal immigration and human trafficking practices”, he added.

Media focus on the number of Southeast Asian immigrants arriving in Portugal has peaked in recent weeks, with a number of social media clips and posts (as well as investigations) highlighting how markedly some inner city areas have changed.

A turning point came earlier this year after a fire in a property packed with migrants, two of whom died.

Source material LUSA/ CNN Portugal

Portugal Resident