In yet another discovery of migrant smuggling in North Macedonia, nearly 150 people were found squeezed into two separate trucks. That's according to police, which earlier said they detained a total of 567 migrants trying to transit North Macedonia without papers in July alone.
North Macedonian police say they have discovered 148 migrants crammed into trucks in two separate operations in central and northern parts of the country.
Police also said they arrested two men from North Macedonia on suspicion of human trafficking.
According to police, their patrol on Wednesday (August 13) stopped a truck and accompanying passenger car near the town of Demir Kapija, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) south of the capital Skopje.
Inside the truck, they allegedly found 103 migrants, including 29 children.
The majority of the group -- 81 people -- were from Pakistan. Ten people were from Afghanistan, eight from India, two from Egypt and one each from Iran and Syria.
According to police, the migrants were transferred to a migrant shelter in the southern border town of Gevgelija. There, they face deportation to Greece, from where they are believed to have crossed into North Macedonia.
2nd truck carried 45 migrants
Another 45 migrants from Syria, Bangladesh, Somalia, Pakistan and the Palestinian territory were found late Wednesday in an abandoned truck near the northern Macedonian village of Vaksince, near the border with Serbia.
The truck driver fled the scene, police said.
The Greek border with North Macedonia was closed earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet trafficking networks in southeastern Europe continue to ferry migrants who make their way from Turkey into Greece and then attempt to head north, through Serbia to more prosperous EU countries.
Series of truck discoveries
Wednesday's discoveries weren't isolated incidents:
- Just this Monday (August 10), North Macedonian police found 94 migrants hiding inside the back of a cargo truck.
- Last month, 11 migrants crammed into a vehicle sustained serious injuries in the third migrant car accident the country had reported in one week. The driver, now wanted on trafficking charges, reportedly fled the scene.
- Also last month, authorities said they discovered 211 migrants hidden in a truck during a routine traffic control in the south of the country.
- In February, North Macedonian police found 53 migrants crammed inside a truck. The driver of the vehicle was arrested on suspicion of belonging to a human trafficking gang.
- And last September, police discovered 81 migrants in a truck near the border with Serbia.
- A total of 567 migrants trying to transit North Macedonia without papers were detained by police in July alone; moreover, police arrested nine people suspected of migrant trafficking, including three Serbian nationals.
Clandestine truck journeys rarely end well
Migrants often resort to taking clandestine journeys in cargo trucks to get across Europe. Usually they are being helped by people smugglers but on certain occasions, individual migrants and refugees manage to hide away in the vehicles without outside help.
The journeys are rarely successful and can be fatal. Last year, 39 Vietnamese migrants died inside a truck outside London from asphyxiation and hypothermia.
There have also been instances of migrants being crushed to death by items that were being moved inside the trucks.
With material from AP