Italian police arrested 19 people on Saturday, suspected of being involved in a people-smuggling ring.
Police said they dismantled a criminal organisation that was moving migrants from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan to Italy and then into Northern Europe.
The investigation, led by prosecutors in Catania, Sicily, unveiled a network that involved hired or stolen sailboats that were used to transport migrants via Turkey and Greece to Italy, according to police.
Some of the migrants then travelled north to the French border to be smuggled by vehicle into that country with the assistance of people smugglers based in border towns, police said in a statement.
The suspects included Iraqi Kurds, Afghans and Italians, police added.
One of the alleged bases for the ring was in Bari, southern Italy, where false documents were issued indicating the migrants had housing, a requirement for residency permits.
Bases were also in Milan and Turin in northern Italy as well as in the town of Ventimiglia, near the French border.
Others allegedly involved in the scheme falsified work contracts so the migrants could successfully apply for permission to reside in Italy, authorities said.
The investigation began in 2018, triggered by the arrival of 10 boats near the eastern Sicilian city of Syracuse.
The boats had sailed from Turkey and Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean, and not from the south, from Libyan shores, where for years, the majority of the hundreds of thousands of migrants had been setting out in traffickers’ unseaworthy vessels toward Italy.
The investigation uncovered the activities of a network of Italians and foreigners, most of the latter holding residency permits issued on grounds of international protection, the police said.