Eritrean suspect of large-scale migration crime appears before Dutch court

A total of seven people are summoned in a lawsuit against an international organization involved in migration crime. This was announced on the first hearing day in the Overijssel Court of First Instance in the Netherlands. A 39-year-old man from Eritrea appeared in a pre-trial hearing. The man was extradited from Ethiopia in October last year. Another main suspect is an Eritrean man who was arrested in Sudan last week. He was on the Netherlands’ Most Wanted List.

The man who made his first court appearance on Tuesday, 10 January 2023, is suspected of participating in a criminal organization involved in human smuggling, hostage-taking, extortion and violence, including sexual violence. The victims are mostly migrants from Eritrea who traveled to the Netherlands. According to the public prosecutor of the National Public Prosecutor's Office, the migrants were subjected to extreme violence on their journey which was organized by human smugglers. During their journey, they were detained in so-called “safe houses” in Libya managed by human smugglers, while their family was extorted in the Netherlands to pay money.

Other suspects

Five persons in the Netherlands will be summoned for involvement in this extortion. In addition, earlier this year on 1 January 2023, another prime suspect in this case was arrested in Sudan in an international police operation led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This also concerns a 39-year-old Eritrean man. He is currently detained in the UAE, where he is a suspect in a money laundering investigation. The Netherlands will request for his extradition later this week.

At the hearing in Zwolle, the public prosecutor announced that this suspect will be summoned in the same proceedings. The Public Prosecution Service wants their cases to be considered jointly since both suspects are alleged to be part of the same criminal organization. Both suspects have been previously convicted in Ethiopia for human smuggling in Africa.

Deadliest migration route

The current investigation is carried out by the Public Prosecution Service and the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, in cooperation with, among others, the International Criminal Court (ICC), Europol, Interpol and Sweden. The Netherlands has also set up a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) with Italy, where the migrants first arrive after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya. This JIT is also supported by Europol. The Central Mediterranean route is the most popular, but also the deadliest, route used by migrants to travel to Europe. Thousands of migrants have died on this route.

The next hearing day is scheduled for 6 April 2023.