A criminal network which smuggled Kosovan migrants into the EU has been busted by police in Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Kosovo.
With the support of Europol and Eurojust and nearly 400 law enforcement officers, a total of 77 people were arrested, according to a Europol press release.
The gang members came from Kosovo, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The Kosovan migrants typically travelled to Serbia on their own where they made contact with facilitators, who then smuggled them into Hungary.
Upon their arrival in Hungary, the migrants were handled by another cell of the same criminal network. In many cases, the migrants claimed asylum in Hungary before being smuggled onwards to their final destinations in Switzerland, Italy, Germany and France.
For their journeys across Europe, migrants were smuggled in vehicles travelling through Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. The migrants paid the smugglers using Western Union or MoneyGram transfers as well as cash.
The facilitators charged around €2,800 per person or €7,000 for a whole family to organise a trip from Kosovo to France.
In addition to the arrests of 46 people on Tuesday (eight of those were in Austria), previous operations with links to the current investigation resulted in a further 31 arrests of members of the same organised criminal network.
Police confiscated several vehicles, mobile phones, SIM cards, computers, hard drives, forged travel documents, and more than €52,000 in cash.
Kosovo has high unemployment, chronic poverty and the youngest population in Europe. Tens of thousands of Kosovans have left since the start of the year – many enduring illegal border crossings to make their way into wealthier EU countries.
Austria has said it will not accept any asylum applications from Kosovans, as their country is now considered safe. Instead, they will be quickly repatriated.
According to Austria’s Interior Ministry, this year alone 1,800 Kosovars have applied for asylum in Austria, compared with 1,900 for the whole of 2014. The figures are even higher for Hungary, where some 11,000 registered for asylum in January.