"Scorpio" Arrested - How the notorious migrant smuggler was tracked down

What he himself admitted to the British television network

Screenshot 2 12 "Scorpio", migrant smuggler

One of the notorious migrant smugglers based in Iranian Kurdistan has been arrested by local authorities, just days after the BBC reported on his activities.

Barzan Majid, who was known by the nickname "Scorpio", was arrested on Sunday morning outside his home, as reported by the British network.

Majid's network had brought thousands of people to Europe, in miserable conditions and after each of them had paid huge sums. Many hundreds of people had crossed the English Channel in boats or hidden in trucks. On other occasions, he had driven them from Turkey to Greece.

Last week two BBC editors spotted him in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. He said he had taken thousands of migrants across the Channel: “Maybe a thousand, maybe 10.000. I don't know, I didn't count," he said.

He even seemed indifferent to the victims: "It is written by God when you will die, but God does not tell you to get into the boat."

A member of the Kurdistan Regional Government said officials were able to use the BBC's findings to locate Majid. They are even considering the possibility of him being interrogated by officials from European countries.

Despite the fact that European countries had tried to dismantle the "Scorpio" network, he himself remained elusive. In fact, before the BBC interview, it was unknown where exactly he lived.

The BBC report

For BBC journalists, Sue Mitchell and Ben Milne, this encounter with the "Scorpio" seemed unthinkable a few months earlier, as they explain in their extensive article.

For several years, he and his gang had almost complete control of human trafficking – using lorries and boats – across the English Channel.

In total, more than 70 migrants have died crossing this route in makeshift boats since 2018. Last month, five people drowned off the French coast, including a seven-year-old girl.

On March 6 this year alone, 60 migrants managed to cross the English Channel in a small boat.

As the British network comments, tens of thousands of migrants try to cross the English Channel every year.

It is a dangerous journey, but for those involved in human trafficking it can be quite lucrative. They can charge 6.000 pounds per person (about 7.000 euros) for the boat crossing. If we consider that in 2023 almost 30.000 people attempted this journey, we can get a taste of their profit.

Screenshot 1 12 "Scorpio", migrant smuggler

In the footsteps of the "Scorpion"

Their interest in "Scorpio", BBC journalists claim, began when we met a little girl in one of the migrant camps near Calais, in northern France.

The child nearly died trying to cross the English Channel in an inflatable dinghy. The boat was used and cheap. It was bought in Belgium and the 19 people on board did not have life jackets.

Who would send people to sea to travel like this, British journalists wonder

Whenever the UK authorities arrest illegal immigrants, they confiscate their mobile phones to inspect them. From 2016 onwards, the number is constantly increasing.

BBC journalist Sue Mitchell and volunteer human rights defender Rob Laurie went to great lengths to track down Europe's most wanted migrant smuggler.

The bearded man codenamed 'Scorpio' managed to smuggle a number of migrants into the UK and then went on the run.

Martin Clarke, a senior investigating officer at the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) told the BBC that authorities were beginning to realize more personal details about "Scorpion", namely that he is an Iraqi Kurd who goes by the name Barzan Majid.

In 2006, the then 20-year-old Majid traveled illegally to England after managing to hide in the back of a lorry.

Despite the authorities refusing him permission to stay in the UK, he ended up staying there for several years – some of which he spent in prison for weapons and drugs offences.

He was eventually deported to Iraq in 2015. A few months later, Majid is believed to have 'inherited' a human trafficking business from his older brother, who was serving a prison sentence in Belgium.

From 2016 to 2021, the 'Scorpion' gang is believed to have controlled much of the human trafficking between Europe and the UK across the Channel.

British authorities began to worry about the identity of the "Scorpion" when, from 2016 onwards, a number kept appearing on the mobile phones of illegal immigrants in the hands of the police.

The name "Scorpio" was often stored in the phones. But sometimes a number with the image of a scorpion was stored.

A two-year international police operation resulted in the conviction of 26 members of the gang in courts in the UK, France and Belgium. However, "Scorpio" had gone up in smoke. Erimin was convicted in a Belgian court of 121 counts of human trafficking.

In October 2022 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined €968.000.

Since then, his traces had disappeared…

Majid (left) with BBC editors

A contact of one of the two journalists who tracked him down introduced them to an Iranian who said he was dealing with "Scorpio" when he was trying to cross the English Channel. "Scorpio" had revealed to the Iranian that he was based in Turkey, from where he coordinated his operations remotely.

In Belgium, BBC reporters tracked down Majid's older brother who had been released from prison. As he told them, "Scorpius" was probably in Turkey.

According to the BBC, a tip led its reporters to a coffee shop in Istanbul frequented by human traffickers. Majid had recently passed through. When they asked the owner of the cafe, he and the patrons kept a fishy silence.

A short while later, a man walked past their table and unzipped his jacket to show them he had a gun with him.

The reporters then learned that Majid had recently deposited the sum of 200.000 euros at a money exchange just down the road from where they were. The reporters left their phone number in the cafeteria in the hope that someone would call them.

How our country is involved

According to BBC journalists, "Scorpio" is now involved in the trafficking of migrants from Turkey to Greece and Italy.

"What we heard was alarming. Up to 100 men, women and children were crammed into one boat, with a capacity of about 12 people,” they said.

Passengers are said to have paid around 10.000 euros each for a seat on one of these boats. Over the past 10 years, more than 720.000 people are believed to have attempted to cross the eastern Mediterranean to reach Europe. Of these, nearly 2.500 died, most from drowning.

Julia Schafermeier, from the SOS Mediterranean charity, argues that traffickers are putting people's lives at great risk: "I don't think they care if these people live or die."

The BBC journalists, after negotiations with a link, point out that they managed to convince "Scorpio" for their meeting although he himself was afraid that he would be taken back to Europe.

They finally agreed to meet at a nearby mall.

"Finally, we saw him. He looked like an affluent golfer, smartly dressed in new jeans, a blue shirt, and a black vest. Once again, he denied being a major player at the top of a criminal organization. He told us that other gang members had tried to implicate him. He also appeared bitter that other human traffickers had obtained British passports and continued their profession,” the reporters say.

"Within three days, one guy sent 170 or 180 people from Turkey to Italy, still holding a British passport!" "Scorpio" told them, adding: "I want to go to some other country to do business. But I can't."

Source: protothema.gr