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Slovenia, Kosovo arrest organized crime group trafficking people in the Balkans

Over the past year the group has smuggled 300 people, including minors, to Europe every month. | U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Law enforcement authorities worked together on March 21 to arrest 12 migrant smugglers operating in the Balkans, sources reported.

According to European police agency Europol, Slovenia, Kosovo, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) and Europol arrested the individuals as part of a cross-border operation to dismantle an organized crime group based in the area.

The group was involved in smuggling migrants from Kosovo to Slovenia, via the Balkan route. The group used different modes of transport to cross borders operating the length of this particular route. They made use of safe houses and a network of contacts along the way.

Over the past year the group has smuggled 300 people, including minors, to Europe every month. The smugglers charged the migrants 2500-3000 euro each and made 900 000 euro every month through their illegal activities, Europol said.

Moreover, the source reported that the Slovenian National Police and the District State Prosecutor’s Office in Koper led the operation, with cooperation and support from the Kosovan Police and the Prosecutor’s Office in Mitrovica, EULEX Kosovo and Europol.

Europol organized operational meetings in Pristina and provided analytical and investigative support. Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) deployed an officer with a mobile office to Pristina to support Kosovan Police and EULEX Kosovo with a Universal Forensic Extraction Device – a mobile forensic kit that can extract data from mobile phones.

According to Vicki Squire, a migration analyst at Warwick university, “The more borders are closed, the more smuggling thrives.”

Figures in 2015-2016 showed that the winding smuggling route through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and into Austria, the first western European country the migrants and refugees pass through, is significantly more frequented than the route across the Mediterranean. Since then, sources say that some of the region’s most unscrupulous and established criminal syndicates have moved into migrant smuggling. The routes used by smugglers in the western Balkans quickly shift, say police.