LISBON (Reuters) – Hundreds of police officers stormed farms in Portugal’s southern Alentejo province on Tuesday, detaining 28 individuals accused of human trafficking and labor exploitation, according to authorities.

The accused are thought to be part of a criminal ring that lured migrants from Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, India, Senegal, and Pakistan to Portugal with the promise of work as farmhands.
Those detained, both Portuguese and foreign citizens, are accused of human trafficking, criminal association, facilitating illegal immigration, illegal labor recruiting, extortion, money laundering, and bodily injury, among other offenses.

Police claimed they conducted 78 searches, which resulted in the recovery of evidence and the “identification of dozens of victims.”

On Wednesday, they will be questioned by a court.

Labor exploitation, in which impoverished migrants are stuck in unpaid employment, and human trafficking are on the rise in Portugal, notably in the agricultural sector. When they are put to work, their papers are frequently taken and their money is withheld, and many are forced to live in basic conditions with little or no comforts.

According to the Council of Europe, Portuguese authorities identified 1,152 potential victims of human trafficking between 2016 and 2020, however the number of investigations, charges, and convictions was low for such a significant number.