AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A large criminal gang smuggling migrants from Kosovo across the European Union’s porous south-eastern border and onwards into Western Europe has been broken up, the EU’s policing agency said on Wednesday.
Almost 400 officers were involved in the crackdown, during which 77 suspected members of the migrant smuggling ring were arrested, Europol said in a statement on Wednesday.
The operation was carried out as concern grows across Europe at the rising numbers of migrants arriving at Europe’s southern and eastern borders, many of them fleeing poverty and conflict across the Middle East.
Europol said migrants from Kosovo, a former province of Serbia with an ethnic Albanian majority, had to pay around 2,800 euros per person or 7,000 euros for an entire family to make the trip from Kosovo to France.
The criminal network recruited migrants in Kosovo, who then traveled on their own to neighboring Serbia and met traffickers who smuggled them over the Hungarian border into the European Union, the Hague-based agency said.
A total of 46 arrests were made on Tuesday in Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Kosovo and Slovakia. Authorities confiscated vehicles, forged travel documents and more than 52,000 euros in cash. Another 31 members of the same network were arrested in earlier sweeps.
Most of the suspects arrested were from Kosovo, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia.
Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Tom Heneghan