Thursday's arrests were linked to the deaths of two Syrians who suffocated in an overfilled van at the Hungarian border | Photo: Robert Jaeger/AFP
Thursday's arrests were linked to the deaths of two Syrians who suffocated in an overfilled van at the Hungarian border | Photo: Robert Jaeger/AFP

Authorities arrested 205 people allegedly tied to Central and Eastern European gangs smuggling tens of thousands of Syrians in the EU. The €150 million ring reportedly used Vienna as a hub to move migrants from Hungary to Germany and France.

European police arrested 205 individuals thought to be behind a multi-million-euro people smuggling ring on Thursday, according to Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner.

The arrests were made across five Central and Eastern European countries, with Austrian police apprehending 92 suspects, and the remaining arrests being made in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.

"This is an important success against organized crime and a serious blow to the smuggler mafia," said Interior Minister Karner in a statement.

36,100 migrants moved, €152 million pocketed

Investigators estimate the group smuggled some 36,100 mostly Syrian refugees across the EU since the beginning of 2021.

Authorities say each migrant paid between €3,000 and €4,500 for transport from Hungary to Vienna — which served as the gang's hub — on route to Western European countries such as Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Investigators estimate the group made more than €152 million ($158 million) through their criminal activity.

The suspected leader of the organization, a 28-year-old Romanian, was arrested in his home country on May 4.

Dead migrants and fabrication shops in gang's Austrian hub

The group made headlines last October when Austrian authorities discovered the bodies of two dead Syrians in a van packed with 27 others during an inspection at the Hungarian border. The driver fled the scene but was later arrested in Latvia. He was then extradited to Austria.

In an incident this January, the driver of another truck fired at an Austrian army conscript when he attempted to halt the vehicle for inspection. The driver of the truck was later arrested in Hungary.

Police in Austria impounded 80 vehicles at various fabricating shops around Vienna on Thursday. It was there that vehicles were retrofitted to facilitate the hiding of those migrants being trafficked.

Austria says it has good reason to keep up border inspections

Austria this week extended inspections along its borders with Hungary and Slovenia — both of which are also part of the open-border Schengen Area — with Interior Minister Karner saying they give, "important insights into smuggling organizations and their procedures."

Just last month Austria was roundly criticized for the controls, with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that EU member states could only prolong border controls when, "confronted with a new serious threat affecting its public order or its internal security."

Karner sought to stress the importance of the step to extend inspections, saying, "Gangs are at work for whom human life is completely irrelevant."  

js/msh (AFP, dpa)

First published: May 12, 2022

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Some of the original wording has been edited by InfoMigrants for clarity.


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