Although most borders on the Balkan route from Turkey to Western Europe have been closed for almost three years, the flow of migrants has not stopped. People smuggling is booming, and new trafficking hubs are being established.
Human traffickers are increasingly using Timisoara, a city of 300,000 people in western Romania, as an anchor point for smuggling migrants towards Western Europe, according to German newspaper, Welt am Sonntag. The city "plays a central role as a hotspot for criminal human trafficking organisations on the Balkans," the German federal police told the newspaper.
Migrants are reportedly hidden in trucks in and near Timisoara in order to smuggle them across the border to Hungary, located roughly an hour by car from the city, and then further West, across the Austrian border and into Germany. Most traffickers hail from "southern and Eastern Europe," with a large number of trucks registered in the name of Turkish companies, the police said.
Migrants risk suffocation
The trucks reportedly often have a fake floor, which is 40 to 50 centimeters above the actual floor in the cargo area. This creates room for migrants to hide in. But because the space is so small, police say migrants are at risk of suffocation. People allegedly pay thousands of euros for these journeys. According to Welt am Sonntag, a Syrian father paid 5500 euros for his family to be smuggled from Romania to Germany.
Even though the number of people entering Western Europe through the Balkans has significantly decreased since several borders were closed almost three years ago, many migrants are still trying to travel from Turkey to Germany, and other EU member states.
People smuggling is a booming business in the region, as fences and tightened patrols make it close to impossible for migrants to cross the borders without the help of traffickers. Those who run out of money often end up stuck halfway along their planned route.
History of the Balkan route
In 2015, hundreds of thousands of migrants entered Western Europe via the Balkan route.
But in March 2016, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia announced that they would be closing their borders to non-citizens without visas. Since then, several countries in the region have build border fences, including Hungary, which built a fence along the border with Serbia in mid-2015. Bulgaria also erected a fence along the Turkish border, in June 2017.
Smugglers are currently operating on many diverging routes from Greece and Turkey to Western Europe. This includes the most common route that was used in 2015, through Serbia and Croatia, and which is usually what is referred to as the Balkan route.
Croatian media has recently reported that a new Balkan route has opened, with people attempting to get from Greece to Western Europe via Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia. Bosnian immigration officials recently released numbers that showed a significant increase in people entering the country from Serbia and Montenegro en route to Western Europe, seeming to confirm reports of a new Balkan route (this is shown as the southern route on our infographic.)