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Austria Arrests 15 Smugglers Plying Balkan Migrant Route

The suspects are believed to have smuggled hundreds of migrants from the Serbian-Hungarian border via Slovakia and the Czech Republic to Austria's northeastern corner. (file photo)

Austrian authorities have busted a human trafficking network that brought hundreds of migrants into the country through the Balkans.

Police in Lower Austria province said on November 27 that in recent days 15 suspected smugglers -- citizens of Moldova, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan – were arrested during checks on suspicious vehicles as well as at a Vienna hotel.

The suspects have smuggled migrants a dozen at a time in cars and vans from the Serbian-Hungarian border via Slovakia and the Czech Republic to Austria's northeastern corner, police said.

Most of the migrants came from Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria, with the goal of reaching Germany.

The smuggling network transported more than 700 people, charging between 4,000-5,000 euros ($4,500-5,600) per person for the trip to Austria and making more than 2.5 million euros, police said.

The alleged smugglers were recruited in their home countries via ads on social media offering work as drivers for 2,000-3,000 euros a month, police said.

Authorities said the operation showed human smuggling along the so-called Balkan route is very active and dangerous for migrants after a number died this year.

“Due to the high level of activity in the Balkans, there are always very dangerous situations. Sometimes they (migrants) have to stay cramped for hours in vans with little air,” said Gerald Tatzgern, the head of the anti-smuggling office at the Federal Criminal Police Office.

With reporting by AP, Krone Zeitung, and Tagesschau
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