A human trafficking ring that smuggled Chinese migrants into Europe and the United States has been dismantled by French and Spanish police.
A total of 75 suspects, including 51 in Spain and 24 in France, were arrested after a two-year joint investigation, according to AFP. Among those captured were two "main operatives" based in Barcelona.
The traffickers charged €40,000-€50,000 (£34,000-£43,000) per person to provide "false identities and transport Chinese citizens to the United States and countries such as Spain, France, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Turkey," said a police statement.
In some cases the ring was involved in the sexual exploitation of migrants, it added, some of whom were children.
Trafficking in children (child trafficking) is a global problem. According to some estimates, as many as 1.2 million children are trafficked every year.
There is a demand for trafficked children as cheap labour or for the sex industry. Children and their families are often unaware of the dangers of trafficking, believing that better employment and lives lie in other countries.
Spanish police seized 81 fake passports from Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
"The composition of this perfectly structured, hierarchical organisation, with its kingpin in China and independent cells operating in different countries, completely shut off from each other, complicated the investigation," the police statement said.
The traffickers accompanied their clients all the way from China to Spain, "the last stop (serving as a) trampoline to the final destination, usually the United Kingdom or the United States," it said.
Operatives from the trafficking ring would meet the migrants on arrival in Barcelona and take them to safe houses before the next leg of their journey.
The route taken from China, as well as the travel documents used, "changed constantly according to the successes and failures of previous trips... or in order to prevent discovery of the traffickers," the statement said.
The 81 fake passports were found in two lodgings owned by the ring in Barcelona.
Police discovered equipment for forging documents including portable computers, scanners, around 20 fake customs stamps and an electronic magnifier.