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African victims of modern slavery rescued in Interpol-backed operation

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Armed conflict and terrorism behind increase in trafficking

An operation coordinated by international police organisation Interpol aimed at strengthening border controls in West Africa has resulted in the rescue of nearly 40 victims of modern slavery.

The majority of those identified as having been trafficked for the purposes of forced labour were children, who were being taken to work in illicit gold mines in Guinea, Interpol said.

Adults who had paid people smugglers to get them to Europe via Libya were also among those rescued.

The eight-day Operation Adwenpa III, which took place in October, was supported by more than 100 officers at 23 sites across key land border and airports in eight countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

As well as resulting in the discovery and rescue of human trafficking victims, the operation also saw law enforcement officers seize 300kgs of counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs at Abidjan airport.

The seizure led to the search of a house that was used as a warehouse and packaging site for other counterfeit medicines, and the arrest of six people.

Harold O’Connell, Director of Interpol’s Capacity Building and Training Unit, commented: “The operation shows the range of activities in which organised crime is involved.

“In addition to helping protect communities, these interventions are part of a longer term solution where information sharing and cross-border cooperation between various law enforcement agencies is essential.”

Last year, the operation resulted in the arrest of human traffickers and migrant smugglers, along with the seizure of counterfeit goods, a large amount of cash, drugs and a number of stolen vehicles.

As well as apprehending organised criminals, Operation Adwenpa, which is funded by the German government, is also intended to provide training on how to strengthen border control to local law enforcement officials from various agencies.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, West Africa is vulnerable to organised crime, people trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorism due to its geographic location, poorly-controlled borders and long coastline.

In recent years, the problem has been exacerbated by the high number of economic migrants seeking to leave the region for Europe, many of whom pay people smuggling gangs to facilitate their journeys.

A recent investigation conducted by CNN found that trafficking gangs are auctioning off migrants in Libya, many of whom have travelled from West Africa, for as little as $400.

The broadcaster obtained mobile phone footage showing two African men being sold off to work on farms.

People smugglers have resorted to selling their human cargo in the North African country after European authorities launched a crackdown on migrant boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean, sending many back to the beaches from which they came.

Speaking after visiting Libya, Mohammed Abdiker, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Director of Operation and Emergencies, said: “The situation is dire. The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for many migrants.

“Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.”

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Preference for fentanyl highest among young, white opioid users in US, study finds

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preference for fentanyl highest among young, white opioid users

US opioid users who prefer the drugs they take to contain fentanyl are more likely to be young, white addicts who consume illicit substances on a daily basis, according to study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Researchers from the institution polled more than 300 opioid users in three US states, discovering that 27% of respondents expressed a preference for their opioids to contain fentanyl, which is said to be as many as 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.

According to the results of the survey, the median age of those who prefer their opioids to contain fentanyl was 38, which compared to 45 for those who would rather their drugs did not.

Ethnically, some 59% of those who prefer their drugs to contain fentanyl identified as being non-Hispanic white, compared to only 29% who like their opioids to be fentanyl-free.

In a statement, study author Susan Sherman said: “These findings will help us think about how best to target interventions to prevent opioid overdoses.

“Preference for fentanyl for a minority of participants likely reflects the fact that in their street opioid markets, fentanyl-containing products are all they’ve known and used.”

In March, data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that overdose deaths linked to the consumption of fentanyl in the US were rising fastest among African Americans.

The statistics showed that while non-Hispanic white people continued to account for most overdose deaths linked to the drug, fatalities associated with fentanyl were rising fastest among non-Hispanic black users.

Separately, American businessman Stephen Schwarzman this week told CBNC that Beijing officials are working to stop shipments of fentanyl from leaving China, where illicit factories produce large quantities of the synthetic opioid to sell into countries such as the US.

“There’s a huge reorganisation going on in China regarding fentanyl to try to shut it down,” Schwarzman said after a trip to the country.

“And if what [officials there told me] is true, you will see this really going down quickly.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly accused China of failing to do enough to prevent shipments of fentanyl from being exported from within its borders to the US.

Last month, Beijing hit back by claiming the US was attempting to pass the blame for its spiralling opioid crisis, urging the White House to examine the domestic drivers of the epidemic.

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EU customs authorities saw fake goods seizures soar last year after counterfeiters sent more parcels through post

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EU customs authorities saw fake good seizures soar

Seizure of fake goods imported into the European Union rose last year as customs agencies across the 28-natiom bloc saw a marked increase in counterfeit items being smuggled into member states in small parcels in express and postal traffic, according to new figures released by the European Commission.

In 2018, the number of consignments intercepted in EU nations rose from 57,433 during the previous year to 69,354, although the total number of induvial fake items taken out of circulation by member state customs workers decreased compared to previous years.

A total of nearly 27 million bogus articles with an estimated street value of almost €740 million ($813 million) were seized in member states over the 12-month period.

Counterfeit tobacco products were the most seized item in the EU in 2018, accounting for 15% of all fake products intercepted.

These were followed closely by toys (14%), packaging material (9%), labels, tags and stickers (9%) and clothing (8%).

Household items such as bathing and beauty products, pharmaceuticals, toys, and electrical household goods accounted for nearly 37% of the total number of intercepted items, the majority of which had come from China.

North Macedonia was found to be the source of the highest number of counterfeit alcoholic beverages, while the leading source of other beverages, perfumes and cosmetics was Turkey.

Away from mainland China, a high number of counterfeit watches, smartphones and accessories, ink cartridges and toners, CDs/DVDs, labels, tags and stickers seized in the EU in 2018 had been imported from Hong Kong, while the main source of bogus computer equipment was India.

Elsewhere, Cambodia was the leading source of counterfeit cigarettes, while the highest amount of fake packaging material came from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In a statement, EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici said: “Customs officers across the EU have seen success in tracking down and seizing counterfeit goods that are often dangerous for consumers.

“Their job is made even more difficult by the rise in small packages entering the EU through online sales.

“Protecting the integrity of our Single Market and Customs Union, and effective enforcement of intellectual property rights in the international supply chain are also priorities. We need to continue stepping up the efforts against counterfeiting and piracy.”

In March, a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the EU’s Intellectual Property Office revealed that counterfeit products account for 3.3% of all global trade.

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Spanish and French police break up major child abduction and people smuggling network

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child abduction and people smuggling network

A Europol-backed operation involving police officers from Spain and France has resulted in the arrest of 29 suspected members of a human trafficking network that incited children to abscond from protection centres in Spain and travel to western Europe.

The gang, which is also said to have been involved in the smuggling of drugs, livestock and illicit tobacco, used Algerian, Malian, Moroccan and Syrian recruiters to target both adult and child migrants from their own countries.

Once recruited, the migrants were trafficked from the Spanish port city of Almería to France on buses owned by businesses based in France, Morocco and Spain.

The contraband was hidden in specially-constructed hidden compartments that had been built into the vehicles in order to avoid the attention of law enforcement agents.

Of the 26 suspects arrested, 26 were detained in Spain, and three in France.

Eleven of those held were remanded in custody.

As well as the 29 arrests, the operation also resulted in the confiscation of €33,000 ($36,270) in cash, various documents, computer equipment, more than 200kgs of cannabis, a vehicle and a trailer, all of which were seized during searches of 14 properties.

The gang’s recruiters are said to have approached migrants who had recently arrived in Almeria having entered Spain illegally, offering to take them by bus to France or Brussels for three times more than a regular passenger would be charged.

The Malian recruiters are said to have specialised in targeting unaccompanied migrant children at a protection centre in Almeria, encouraging the minors to use violence against social workers in order to escape.

According to Spanish police, the gang paid a local hotel owner in Almeria to provide accommodation to migrants while they waited to be herded onto buses, with many being forced to sleep in overcrowded rooms.

Police launched an investigation into the network behind the plot following the arrest of a Spanish national in France who was caught driving a bus carrying 22 irregular migrants, six of whom were children.

The probe led to the discovery of a major criminal network that was allegedly headed up a Moroccan nation who owned a bus company.

In a statement, Europol said: “Europol supported the operation with coordination, analysis and information exchange.

“Europol financed the organisation of an operational meeting and provided on-the-sport operational support during the action day with the deployment of two analysts in Spain and one in France to support the action in the field.”

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