LISBON (Reuters) - Hundreds of police raided farms in Portugal's southern Alentejo region on Tuesday, arresting 28 people suspected of human trafficking and labour exploitation, police said.
The suspects are believed to be part of a crime ring that exploited migrants from countries including Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, India, Senegal and Pakistan after luring them to Portugal with a promise of a job as farmhands.
Police said they had carried out a total of 78 searches, which resulted in the seizure of evidence and the "identification of dozens of victims".
Those detained, both Portuguese and foreign nationals, are suspected of human trafficking, criminal association, aiding illegal immigration, illegal labour recruitment, extortion, money laundering and exerting physical harm, among other crimes.
They will appear before a judge on Wednesday for questioning.
Cases of labour exploitation, when poor migrants are trapped in unpaid work, and human trafficking have been growing in Portugal, particularly in the agricultural sector. Once put to work, their papers are often confiscated and pay withheld, with many packed into primitive dwellings with few or no amenities.
The Council of Europe has reported that Portuguese authorities identified 1,152 suspected victims of trafficking in 2016-2020, but the number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions was low for such a large number.
(Reporting by Patrícia Vicente Rua; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Nick Macfie)