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A Greek court has sentenced 15 people to jail in connection with one of the largest migrant and refugee smuggling gangs in northern Greece.

A three-member court in Thessaloniki convicted the accused refugee smugglers to sentences ranging from three to 17 years. The verdict follows an investigation that lasted several months and spanned three countries. According to the case file, the gang had been active since at least July 2014, transporting migrants and refugees from the Vardari area of Thessaloniki to the Greek border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). From there they would send migrants to Serbia and on to Western Europe for a fee of 1,500 euros ($1,685) per person.

Final payment upon arrival

According to the court, the total price for passage was paid in four installments: 600 euros in advance as collateral, another 130 euros on departure, 500 euros after crossing the FYROM border and the final 270 euros on arrival in Serbia.

The downfall of the gang began in 2014 following the arrest of a man in Austria for smuggling 14 people after a routine check. The investigation included intense telephone surveillance resulting in 22 DVDs containing 1,238 transcripts.

Jamal, the Palestinian's route

The route from FYROM into Serbia was dubbed "Jamal, the Palestinian's Route," named after Jamal Owda, the 27-year-old asylum seeker who is currently being held in the UK and faces a 20-year prison sentence. Jamal Owda was arrested in 2014 as he entered the UK hiding in a truck. His lawyers are fighting a Greek request for his extradition.

Owda is said to have been the mastermind of one of Europe's biggest people trafficking gangs which allegedly smuggled more than 50,000 Syrians into Europe in a £7million ($9.1 million) operation. The gang, which Owda is said to have run from his room in an asylum hostel in Liverpool, is estimated to have smuggled 100 Syrians across the European border every day for 16 months.

 

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