MADRID – Spanish police said Sunday they had smashed a trafficking ring that brought Romanians, many of them with disabilities, to Spain where they were forced to beg in the streets dressed as mimes and human statues.
Officers arrested three suspected members of the gang, including its alleged leader, and freed 10 Romanians who were being held by the network as part of the operation carried out in the northwestern region of Galicia, police said in a statement. Some of the six women who were freed had also been forced into prostitution.
The ring would recruit its victims in Romania with the promise of jobs in the hospitality sector in Spain, but once in the country they were forced to beg on the streets of Santiago de Compostela, a world-famous pilgrimage city, on their knees or dressed as human statues or mimes “regardless of weather conditions.
Members of the ring would threaten victims to make them beg and “were especially violent when some of these people became sick and could not go out in the streets,” the police statement said.
The ring would target “vulnerable” people in Romania, often with disabilities or learning difficulties “which would make them more profitable” as beggars, it added.
The ring would keep all of the money collected by its victims, who they forced to stay in crowded and dirty lodgings in the nearby city of A Coruna.
Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral, where the apostle Saint James is said to be buried, is the final stop of the popular “Camino de Santiago,” or “Way of St.James” pilgrimage route which dates back to the Middle Ages.
The city’s historic center, with its arcade streets and stone architecture that has been designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, is visited by millions of people every year.