STA, 21 October 2019 - An international police investigation into trafficking in illegal migrants has concluded with criminal complaints filed against 10 persons, including four Slovenians. They are charged with at least 24 cases of transportation of illegal migrants across the border.
The investigation into the trafficking of migrants to the EU through the Balkan countries, which has been taking place since April, has been conducted by the police forces of Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Europol.
Their representatives offered some fresh statistics on illegal migration to the EU as they presented the operation at a press conference in Koper on Monday.
Uroš Lavrič of the General Police Administration said that the Slovenian police had detected an increased number of criminal gangs which organised trafficking in illegal migrants.
One of the cases which prompted the international police cooperation was a wild pursuit of a Slovenian who was transporting three Iraqis in his car, and who was stopped by the Italian border police only in Trieste.
Dejan Jurič, the head of the Koper police department, said that at least ten persons had participated in the criminal gang, and that it was headed by a 28-year-old Slovenian from the Piran area.
According to him, sufficient evidence has been collected to prove at least 150 illegal crossings of the border by citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Eritrea and Afghanistan.
Criminal complaints have been written for a total of 24 criminal acts of illegal crossing of the border, with one criminal act related to illicit drugs and one criminal act of illegal production and trafficking in arms.
A total of 150 migrants who have crossed the Slovenian border illegally have been apprehended, and seven of the suspects have been detained.
The migrants most frequently crossed the border in the area of the border crossings of Dragonja and Jelšane in the south-west and in Babno Polje in the south.
The smugglers charged them between EUR 1,500 and EUR 3,000 for the transportation from Serbia to Italy. Had the operation succeeded, the criminal gang would have earned up to EUR 450,000 said Jurič.
Lavrič pointed to the "uncompromising behaviour of the smugglers" lately, as they were endangering migrants with reckless driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or by putting a large number of migrants in vehicles.
In the last 30 days alone as many as six cases were recorded of a smuggler transporting between 24 and 38 foreigners in a single vehicle, he added.
The statistics shows that the number of related criminal acts processed by the Slovenian police this year is up by 71% compared to the same period last year (365 to 213).
The number of related criminal acts committed as part of a criminal ring increased almost seven-fold, and the number of cases of trafficking in illegal migrants for material gain increased by 59% (from 132 to 210).
According to Lavrič, last year the Slovenian police apprehended 218 persons who were transporting illegal migrants across the border in a total of 153 cases.
Until 18 October this year, there were a total of 260 such cases, an increase of 132% compared to the same period last year (112).
So far a total of 379 smugglers of illegal migrants have been apprehended, including 37 Slovenian citizens, and 312 of them ended in detention. They were transporting a total of 2,246 illegal migrants.
Svevlad Hoffmann, the chief inspector of the border police of Bosnia-Herzegovina, said that the criminal gang had been well organised, transporting around 350 illegal migrants across the Bosnian border.
He expressed the hope that the EU would recognise the effort and provide the Bosnian police with staffing, material and technical assistance so that it could be equipped comparably to border police forces in the west.
Gabor Stankovič of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre noted that the Balkan migration route was still a "hot potato" for the EU, adding that "migrations are not a problem of one country, but the entire EU."
Stankovič noted that Bosnia-Herzegovina was facing enormous migration pressure, adding that at least half of the smuggling cases reported to Europol came from the Western Balkans.