A migrant has died in an accident involving a fully loaded minibus in northeastern Greece. Another three migrants were seriously injured, Greek state radio reported. Smugglers in the region are known to repeatedly try to bring migrants from the Greek-Turkish border into western Greece, frequently leading to fatal accidents.
The accident in northeastern Greece occurred when a minibus overturned, Greek public broadcaster ERT1 reported Monday (January 2), citing local police. However, it wasn't immediately clear why the accident had occurred.
The driver, who is suspected of people smuggling, has reportedly disappeared. Twelve of the migrants in the bus were unharmed. The vehicle was on its way from the Turkish-Greek border region to western Greece, police sources said, which is a common route used by people smugglers.
Steep price for a dangerous ride
Once again, more and more migrants are trying to reach Central and Western Europe or Italy using dangerous routes like this with the help of smugglers. Those traveling through Greece usually try to bypass the country so they can lodge their first asylum claim elsewhere.
Smugglers repeatedly try to bring migrants from the region of the Greek-Turkish border river Evros to western Greece in minibusses and cars or hiding them in trucks. In the process, fatal accidents occur time and again.
According to news agency dpa citing migrants' testimonies, the smuggling gangs involved collect up to €7,000 for arranging such journeys.
It is unclear how many migrants manage to reach Central and Western Europe via this particular route. The UN refugee agency UNHCR says it registered close to 5,800 people who came by land from Turkey to Greece.
Lucrative and dangerous business
Migrant smuggling is a highly profitable and highly organized business. Some smuggling networks, like the one Europol busted last June, transport thousands of migrants to Europe.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), migrant smuggling is the "facilitation, for financial or other material gain, of irregular entry into a country where the migrant is not a national or resident."
The main difference between migrant smuggling and human trafficking, according to UNODC, is "financial or material benefit" vs. the actual exploitation of the victim and their person.
Migrant smuggling: Series of deadly accidents
Monday's death and the injuries in Greece highlight the mortal dangers migrants have to face while trying to reach European countries -- often with the help of smugglers, who are frequently arrested both inside and outside the EU for trying to bring migrants into western Europe.
Some recent incidents -- traffic accidents as well as shootouts involving smugglers -- include:
- Last September, three migrants as well as a people smuggler were reportedly killed and eight injured when a car carrying 11 migrants drove off a bridge in southern Hungary.
- Last August, three migrants were killed and 11 injured in a car crash in southern Hungary. Police blamed a people smuggler for the accident.
- Last July, a shootout between migrant groups near the Serbia-Hungary border left one person dead and at least six others injured. The clash reportedly involved Afghan and Pakistani migrant smugglers.
- Last June, a pickup truck in northeastern Greece crashed, leaving one migrant dead and at least 16 injured. The driver had been reportedly attempting to evade a police checkpoint.
- Last April, two migrants died after being hit by a lorry on a highway between the Italian cities of Genoa and Ventimiglia in northwest Italy. A third person was seriously injured.
- In January 2022, a Belgian court sentenced a Vietnamese man to 15 years in prison after convicting him of being the ringleader in the trafficking of 39 migrants found dead in a lorry. Their bodies were found in a truck outside London in October 2019.
- In December 2021, a car carrying at least ten migrants crashed into a house in Hungary. Seven people reportedly died and four were injured, including the driver of the car.
- In July 2021, at least 12 people died and many others were injured when their minibus overturned and caught fire in eastern Turkey's Van province.
- In March 2021, a truck carrying Syrian migrants crashed near the Croatia-Bosnia border, leaving four migrants dead and at least 11 people injured.
- In August 2015, Austrian police discovered an abandoned truck containing the bodies of 71 Iraqi, Syrian and Afghan migrants. Among the suffocated victims were eight children. The truck, found parked along a highway, had crossed into Austria from Hungary.
- In June 2000, 58 Chinese immigrants were found dead inside an airless truck in the English port town of Dover. The Dutch truck had transported the immigrants across the English Channel from Belgium.