Authorities from the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Romania, and Serbia arrested 134 suspects in a massive international investigation into people smuggling through the Balkan route. Four arrests were made in the Netherlands, Europol and the Koninklijke Marechaussee announced.
Most of the suspects, 63, were arrested in Austria. The authorities also searched 151 houses – 37 in Austria, 70 in Germany, 17 in Hungary, 25 in Romania, and 2 in the Netherlands – and seized some 900,000 euros in assets.
According to Europol, the OTF Pathfinder investigation targeted “some of the most dangerous migrant smugglers active across the EU.” Eight of the arrested suspects are considered “high-value targets” with global connections in source, transit, and destination countries. Europol linked them to 150 investigations and 916 smuggling incidents.
The suspects facilitated the smuggling of at least 10,000 people, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria, to the European Union, Europol said. They used trucks’ cargo bays, closed vans, and personal cars to smuggle people from Turkey through the Western Balkan region to Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands.
“The suspects used social media platforms to advertise their illegal business and to convince the migrants’ relatives that the smuggling was safe.” But according to Europol, many of the people were transported in life-threatening conditions.
The investigation is still ongoing and more arrests may follow.