Five members of a Slovakian people smuggling gang have been arrested for allegedly trafficking hundreds of migrants into Western Europe from Hungary.
An investigation into those behind the operation involved officers from both Hungary and Slovakia, who discovered the gang had concealed illegal immigrants in adapted vehicle fuel tanks.
Some of the gang’s foot soldiers were reportedly intercepted as they attempted to cross the Hungarian border with a number of migrants. This led to a series of raids on properties used by members of the group, who could face up to 10 years in jail if they are found guilty of people smuggling offences.
According to detectives that led the probe, migrants from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan were each charged as much as €1,000 to be smuggled across borders. After migrants made it to Hungary, the gang arranged onward travel for them to countries such as Italy and Germany.
Images revealed by police showed how multiple migrants were packed into slim fuel canisters on the side of vehicles, although the authorities failed to reveal how many were crammed into each tank. According to officers investigating the case, the gang smuggled at least 300 immigrants from Hungary into Western Europe over the course of last year.
Up until now, Slovakia had not been considered a major hub for gangs seeking to exploit the millions of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Separately, six members of another human tracking gang have been arrested in Madrid after making an estimated €1.43 million by using their own bus company to ship hundreds of migrants from Spain to countries including France, Germany and Sweden.
Having made the journey from Morocco, migrants would be placed by the gang on coaches that would make their way along traditional bus routes to the Spain-France border.
A police spokesperson said: “If they managed to get through, the men and women being smuggled on board would be picked up by other members of the organisation in France.”
Officers investigating the gang suspect it may have trafficked an estimated 500 migrants into Northern Europe this year alone. Raids on properties used by the group’s members resulted in the seizure of mobile phones, computer equipment and information on international money transfers.
Speaking back in July, Europol chief Rob Wainwright warned that record numbers of people smugglers attempted to cash in on the migrant crisis over the first half of this year. “We are seeing a huge increase in the size of the criminal market… with larger syndicates starting to bed down and take control,” Wainwright told Reuters.
“They are very enterprising in the way they are bringing together teams of specialists under one syndicate… some are recruiters, while others specialise in forging fake documents and others in money laundering.”