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Police In North Macedonia Find 53 Migrants In Truck

A Macedonian soldier patrols the Macedonian border with Greece near Gevgelija.

Macedonian police have discovered 53 migrants in a truck in a southeastern border region and arrested the driver, who is suspected of being part of a trafficking gang, officials have said.

The truck was stopped during a routine check late on February 12 near the town of Valandovo, located in the vicinity of North Macedonia's borders with Greece and Bulgaria, police said in a statement.

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 are 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.

North Macedonia'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 border illegally into neighboring countries.

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