Europol: 92 charged in bust targeting migrant smugglers in Bulgaria

Charges have been laid against 92 people following an operation, supported by European police co-operation agency Europol, by Bulgarian authorities against organised crime groups involved in migrant smuggling, the agency said on January 17.

The January 16 “action day” – in police terminology – targeted criminal networks active along the Balkan route.

The Bulgarian investigations were also coordinated with the Turkish and the Serbian authorities and other partner agencies, Europol said.

On the day, 624 locations, 4202 vehicles and 7019 individuals were checked, the statement said.

The joint actions took place across Bulgaria and focused on a number of networks smuggling migrants from Türkiye, via Bulgaria, to Serbia and then Western Europe.

The main organisers of the networks active along this route are based in Bulgaria, Serbia and Türkiye.

They have created their own national networks of members responsible for the transport and accommodation in their respective countries, Europol said.

The main modes of transportation used by the smugglers were vans, campers and buses.

The prices for the full smuggling service in larger groups varied between 2000 and 3000 euro per person.

If the migrants were smuggled in a smaller group of five to six people, the payments were reaching up to 10 000 euro.

Payments for the full trip would be made after the main organiser from Türkiye had confirmed that the migrants had reached the Bulgarian-Serbian border.

Bulgarian authorities have reported an increase in migrant smuggling activities on their southern border, Europol said.

In August 2022 an incident, which involved a bus transporting irregular migrants, led to the death of two police officers on duty. Later the same year, an officer from Bulgaria’s Border Police was shot dead during regular patrol at the green border with Türkiye.

“These incidents suggest an increase of both the smuggling activities and the violence of the involved criminal networks,” Europol said.

(Archive photo: Bulgarian Interior Ministry press centre)

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