Reuters International

PARIS (Reuters) - Interpol launched a public appeal on Thursday for help catching people smugglers who make billions of dollars' profit from the flow of migrants to peaceful and prosperous countries from poor and strife-torn homelands.

The France-based international police organisation published on its web site photos of 11 people it was targeting in connection with an operation focused on 180 fugitives sought in 31 countries.

It comes as the European Union, bitterly divided on how to handle its worst migration crisis since World War Two, focuses on stemming the inflow of refugees and migrants after 1.3 million people reached its shores last year.

An Interpol study released in May showed people smugglers had made over $5 billion from the wave of migration into southern Europe last year.

Catching perpetrators is particularly tricky because the victims are often unwilling or unable to give details, said Michael O’Connell, Director of Interpol's operational support unit.

"People smuggling is a global issue which is why international cooperation through operations such as Hydra are essential," he said in a statement.

Interpol plans to use social media to involve the public in the hunt and has asked member countries to circulate the mugshot posters.

The 11 wanted individuals include Mariana Crucerescu, convicted of heading a Romanian organized crime group which illegally smuggled individuals through Hungarian and Austrian border points at a cost of up to EUR 3,000 per person.

Also named is Kolyo Georgiev Kolev, suspected of illegally transporting nine Afghan nationals from Bulgaria into Austria, two of whom died when the van in which they were travelling overturned in Hungary.

(Reporting by Andrew Callus; editing by Richard Lough and Richard Balmforth)

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