From file: Migrants walk in the night to try to cross the border between Serbia and Romania near the Serbian town of Majdan, May 11, 2021 | Photo: Picture Alliance/Michael Bunel
From file: Migrants walk in the night to try to cross the border between Serbia and Romania near the Serbian town of Majdan, May 11, 2021 | Photo: Picture Alliance/Michael Bunel

Serbian police announced on Sunday that they had discovered an "illegal migrant camp" on the border with Hungary and Romania. The police said that they had detained "suspected people smugglers" at the camp.

Serbian police raided the makeshift camp at the weekend and released a statement and video on Sunday, July 4.

In the video, published on Russian TV channel Ruptly, the police walk through trees on the banks of the Tisa river towards a small camp consisting of improvised tent structures and wooden huts.

A group of seven suspects are shown face down on the banks of the river with police standing around them in one shot, two separate shots show two other men in the same position, hands behind their heads, face down on the ground.

Soon after, the video pans to a low table in the hut where at least 20 mobile phones are laid out, three knives and various other paraphernalia, which the police confiscated.

'Smuggling gang'

Piles of clothes and a few mattresses are picked up for the camera as the police officers searech the deserted huts with a torch. The news agency Associated Press (AP), reported that Serbia’s Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin described the inhabitants of the camp as a "smuggling gang."

Vulin told journalists, reported AP that "this smuggling gang has committed criminal acts and made the citizens feel unsafe." Vulin added that this behavior would "not be tolerated."

The camp was discovered near the village of Srpski Krstur, not far from Serbia’s border with Hungary and Romania. The village is in the far north of Serbia, at the intersection of all three countries and just east of Subotica which has previously been a well-known gathering and crossing point for migrants hoping to continue their journey along the so-called Balkan route towards EU countries.

Alternative routes

In recent years, as it has become more and more difficult to cross into Hungary, some migrants hope either to circumvent Hungary via Romania and cross into the EU via Ukraine and then Slovakia or Poland, or attempt to cross the Hungarian border at less trafficked points from Romania.

AP said that Vulin accused those rounded up in the village of engaging in theft and extortion from other migrants. A police statement said that the migrants found at the camp "would be transferred to a state-run center for asylum seekers in the south of the country."

Those suspected of criminal acts would be dealt with by "local police and anti-terrorism authorities," concluded the statement.

Migrant smuggling 'worth at least €50 million'

Earlier this year, an NGO the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime reported that the migrant-smuggling business in the Western Balkan countries could be worth "at least €50 million."

One of the smuggling hotspots is the area around the Serbian, Hungarian and Romanian border. According to the report, "the estimated value of the market in this area ranges from €8.5 million to €10.5 million."

The report said that the "most organized and lucrative forms of smuggling appear around the borders that are hardest to cross." One of those sticking points was Serbia and Hungary. The report noted that the criminal groups at those locations were a mixture of "locals with a knowledge of the terrain and the movements of the police, as well as nationals of countries where the asylum seekers and migrants originate (like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco and Syria.)"

The report, noted the regional news site Balkan Insight, estimated that migrants might pay €2,500 "to travel from Subotica in northern Serbia to a settlement near the Hungarian border where they were accommodated in abandoned farmhouses and factories before being smuggled into Hungary."

 

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