– File Photo by AP

BARCELONA: Spanish police said on Wednesday they had smashed a human trafficking ring in Barcelona, arresting 18 people suspected of smuggling around 1,000 Pakistanis every year into the European Union.

Officers have “dismantled a criminal organisation dedicated to the trafficking of illegal immigrants of Pakistani nationality,” local police said in a statement.

The victims had paid between 600 and 15,000 euros ($800 and $20,000) each to be smuggled into Barcelona and other European cities, local police said in a statement, adding that the network had operated for at least seven years.

The travel was always carried out “on roads in trucks and vans crammed with up to 25 people” under conditions “that often put their health and safety at risk,” the police said.

They added that the vehicles entered Europe's borderless Schengen area by passing through Greek customs control.

Among the 18 people arrested in Pakistan and several European countries during the police operation last week were three leaders of the Barcelona-based ring, which belonged to a larger network in Pakistan that smuggled people into Spain, France, Italy and Germany.