Migrant smugglers who advertised online arrested
Over a dozen people have been arrested as part of an international investigation on suspicion of people smuggling, among them five in Slovenia. The criminal ring advertised their illegal services on social media.
The Slovenian police found that a 52-year-old man from the Ptuj area had led the Slovenian cell of a criminal ring which transported illegal migrants from Serbia to Austria via Hungary, Beno Meglič, the head of Maribor criminal police, told reporters on 10 February.
During the investigation the criminal ring transported at least 212 people in at least 16 transits. The migrants were charged €5,000 per person for a trip from Serbia to Austria, or between €15,000 and €20,000 for a trip between their home country and their final destination.
The ring made at least €100,000 by transporting migrants between Serbia and Austria and at least €3.2 million from longer trips. It advertised its services by posting videos of successful transits online.
The Slovenian part of the ring was led by a 52-year-old man, who worked with a 41-year-old man, also from the Ptuj area, and a 46-year-old man from the Dolenjska region. The latter was apprehended in June after having been caught transporting 13 illegal migrants, but continued with the illegal activity after being released from detention.
The three men recruited drivers for transports between Hungary's borders with Serbia and Austria. The migrants crossed the border into Austria on foot. The criminal police believe they gave up transports through Slovenia because the risk of being caught was too great.
Once the migrants had crossed over into Austria and requested international protection, criminal ring members from other countries picked them up, transporting them to their final destinations.
The head of the Slovenian branch allegedly also worked together with criminals in Greece and Serbia in organising transports of larger numbers of migrants, which saw up to 37 people being crammed into vans.
The investigation, which also involved Europol, discovered several pieces of weapons, as well as illegal drugs. In total, 13 suspects have been charged with illegal crossing of border or territory, and drug and weapons trafficking. Five of them have been found guilty of different property crimes and criminal acts involving violence in the past.
In Slovenia, five suspects were taken to an investigating judge. Four were put in detention and one was placed under house arrest.
Damijan Roškarič, the head of the organised crime investigations unit of the Slovenian police, said that Slovenia remained a transit country in illegal migrations. "The trends in people smuggling have not changed much since Croatia entered the Schengen zone."
According to Tomaž Pavček of the border police, illegal migrations through Slovenia peaked in October. The numbers have been declining since, partly due to winter and partly because of visa regime changes in the Western Balkans.
In January, the Slovenian police intercepted 2,500 illegal migrants. "Despite the downward trend, the number of illegal migrants recorded this January is higher by 250% than in January 2022," said Pavček.