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News 22 Jun 15

Macedonia Busts Migrant Trafficking Ring

After a major police raid, the Macedonian authorities filed criminal charges against 16 people suspected of illegally trafficking migrants from the Middle East.

Elena Andonovska
BIRN
Skopje
A group of migrants on bicycles near Katlanovo, some 30km south-east of the Macedonian capital, Skopje | Photo by: AP / Boris Grdanoski

Police found some 160 migrants who were hidden in a house used as the gang’s base during the raid in the village of Vaksince, near Macedonia’s northern border with Serbia, on Saturday.

“Criminal charges have been filed against 16 people who are suspected of… human trafficking, trafficking of children, illegal transport of migrants and facilitating [crimes],” police spokesperson Ivo Kotevski told media.

Twelve of those charged have been arrested. All of them are Macedonian citizens, except the suspected leader of the gang, who is a Bangladeshi national, Kotevski said.

For fees of 600 to 1,000 euro per migrant, the group transported illegals from the country’s southern border with Greece to the Serbian border, where it handed them over to Serbian gangs, he said.

Police searched 11 houses, found two guns and confiscated some 20,000 euro.

The police action comes after Britain's Channel 4 News programme earlier this month broadcast a report suggesting that criminal gangs have been profiting from the migrants. 

The report said hundreds of migrants from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, were being held for ransom by gangs in Macedonia. It also alleged that local police had been colluding with the gangs.

The Macedonian authorities then said that they were investigating the claims and that dozens of people had already been charged for this crime.

Macedonia also recently adopted a law that allows migrants a three-day legal passage through the country, after encountering criticism for allegedly putting the migrants at risk of being robbed, kidnapped or killed while hiding from the authorities.

The move came after more than 25 migrants were killed by passing trains while walking along the south-north railway line from Greece via Macedonia to Serbia in the past year.

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman’s office, human rights activists and media voiced concern over substandard conditions in the Skopje migrant shelter centre at Gazi Baba, where people are reportedly held in crowded rooms, in poor sanitary conditions, and are prohibited from leaving the premises.

The authorities have said they are struggling to cope with the influx of migrants from conflict-hit countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, noting that the number of people entering the country has quadrupled in the past few months, reaching 8-10,000 each week.

The goal of the refugees, a BIRN investigation showed, is to use the railway track to Serbia, which is part of the Macedonian section of the pan-European Corridor 10, to reach the EU.

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