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North Macedonia Police Find 47 Migrants In Truck, Second Discovery In 10 Days

Soldiers in North Macedonia patrol the country's border with Greece, near Gevgelija.
Soldiers in North Macedonia patrol the country's border with Greece, near Gevgelija.

Police in North Macedonia say they have discovered 47 migrants in an abandoned truck in the southwest region of the Balkan country near the borders of Bulgaria and Greece.

Police said on February 22 that the parked truck was found late the previous night with migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq inside. The driver had already left when police arrived, officials said.

Authorities said the migrants entered the country from Greece and that they plan to deport them back there.

The discovery comes just more than a week after police said they found 53 migrants in a truck, also in the southeastern border region near Greece and Bulgaria. Police arrested the driver, who is suspected of being part of a trafficking gang.

It said 37 of the migrants were Afghans, 12 were Pakistanis, two were Indians, and there was one Iraqi and one Egyptian. The driver was identified as a 43-year-old citizen of North Macedonia.

The migrants, who are believed to have entered the country illegally from Greece, were sent to detention centers in the capital, Skopje, and the border town of Gevgelija pending trial. They were also expected to be deported back to Greece.

Although the so-called Balkan Route from Greece to Western Europe has been closed since 2015, thousands of migrants still try to make their way up north by paying smugglers.

Officials in North Macedonia tried further to dramatically reduce the flow of migrants, many of them Afghan, in 2016, blaming the next country on the route, Serbia, for locking down their mutual border.

The United Nations refugee agency said last year that nearly 71 million people were displaced worldwide in 2018 by war, persecution, and other violence -- an increase of more than 2 million from 2017 and the highest level in almost 70 years.

The most "forcibly displaced" refugees have come from Syria, at 6.7 million, followed by Afghanistan at 2.7 million.

The discovery of migrants in abandoned vans or trucks has become a relatively common occurrence in North Macedonia. The country's police say in the first three weeks of the year, a total of 1,365 migrants who had entered the country illegally were spotted.

Last year, police stopped more than 24,500 migrants from crossing the borders illegally into neighboring countries.

Meanwhile, in a separate case, a court in the capital, Skopje, gave a two-year suspended sentence to a German man and an Italian woman convicted of trying to smuggle three people into North Macedonia from Greece last month with false identification papers.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, AP, and dpa

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