Europol: Drivers’ migrant smuggling cell dismantled in Bulgaria, with five arrests

On October 4, European police cooperation agency Europol supported Bulgarian authorities in dismantling a migrant smuggling group active at the periphery of the so-called Balkan route, Europol said in a media statement.

The criminal group is believed to have been acting as a logistical cell of a larger migrant smuggling network active across several European countries, Europol said.

For the past months, officers from the Bulgarian General Directorate Combating Organised Crime have been investigating the network to establish the role the suspects have played in the migrant smuggling activities.

The investigations established that this logistical migrant smuggling cell facilitated the transportation by car of irregular migrant from the eastern part of Bulgaria (the cities of Bourgas and Yambol) to Sofia and later to the Bulgarian border with Serbia, Europol said.

The transportation of the migrants was arranged in two stages, first to Sofia and later to the border with Serbia.

In Sofia, the migrants were moved to remote locations to avoid police attention.

The migrants were charged between 1000 and 3000 euro a person to reach the Serbian border.

The smugglers transported between 10 and 30 migrants at a time.

“The gathered operational information suggests that this logistical cell is part of a larger criminal network smuggling migrants from Türkiye to Western Europe through Bulgaria and Serbia,” Europol said.

Europol said that what it termed the “action day” on October 4 led to five arrests of Bulgarian nationals, seven house searches, and confiscations, including car rental documents and contracts for purchases and sales of cars, other documents related to the criminal activities, electronic equipment and 10 000 euro in cash.

The police agency said that since mid-2022, Bulgaria’s authorities had reported a sharp increase in migrant smuggling activities on its southern border and an increase in violence perpetrated by members of the involved criminal networks against migrants and police officers.

Following several deadly incidents involving numerous deaths of police officers and migrants, Bulgarian authorities had further increased their efforts to tackle migrant smuggling networks active using Bulgaria as a transit country, Europol said.

At the end of last year, Europol increased its support for Bulgarian authorities with the deployment of a dedicated analyst, the statement said.

On the action day on October 4, Europol deployed an expert to Sofia to provide real-time analytical support and cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases.

This operation followed the recent establishment of a Europol-coordinated Regional Operational Task Force, based in Sofia, which is focusing on criminal networks smuggling migrants across Bulgaria towards Western Europe, the statement said.

(Archive photo: Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry press centre)

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