Greek police said Sunday they had arrested four human traffickers and released 14 migrants being held in a warehouse near the border with Turkey. The previous day, a smuggler and 48 migrants believed to have crossed the Evros river illegally were detained in Western Greece.
The migrants held hostage in an abandoned warehouse were all Pakistanis. The suspected trafficker, also of Pakistani origin, is thought to have locked the migrants up to blackmail their families to extort more money than was originally agreed, dpa reports.
The suspected people smuggler detained the day before is believed to have transported 48 migrants across the Evros river from Turkey. From there, the migrants – mostly refugees from Iraq and Syria – continued their journey by bus to western Greece. All migrants were to be brought to a refugee center, a spokesperson told dpa.
Only one week earlier, Greek police had freed 50 migrants from a warehouse near Thessaloniki.
Balkan migration route
Since Macedonia sealed its border with Greece two years ago, the most popular land-route from the Middle East to Europe was cut off. Illegal border-crossings across the Evros river bordering Turkey and Greece have increased over recent months. Migrants also continue to arrive illegally via boats from Turkey and attempt to filter north.
"Sealing the borders has reduced the number of people trying to go that way [the Balkan migration route], but has also forced those in genuine need of protection to turn to smugglers and face huge risks, making them even more vulnerable," Ljubinka Brasnarska of the UNHCR in Macedonia said.
Smugglers profiting off of sealed borders
Many migrants turn to smugglers in the hopes of entering the European Union. Despite border controls, smugglers lure migrants with promises of transporting them across unguarded terrains from Greece across Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina to the northern Balkans or across the Adrian Sea to Italy. Many migrants want to continue to Western Europe rather than applying for asylum in Greece.
Around 3,500 people irregularly arrived in Bosnia since the start of the year.
Nearly every day, Greek police are making arrests of traffickers who smuggle migrants in mini-vans or in hidden trunks from Evros to western Greece. The ports of Patras and Igoumenitsa have become central hubs for traffickers where migrants try to take a ferry to Italy.