Austria leads international bust of massive human trafficking ring

Authorities arrested 205 people tied to Central and Eastern European gangs smuggling tens of thousands of Syrians in the EU. The EUR150 million ring used Vienna as a hub to move migrants from Hungary to Germany and France. European police arrested 205 individuals thought to be behind a multi-million-euro human trafficking ring on Thursday according to Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner.

The arrests were made across five Central and Eastern European countries, with Austrian police apprehending 92 suspects, and the remaining arrests being made in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. “This is an important success against organized crime and a serious blow to the smuggler mafia,” said Interior Minister Karner in a statement.

36,100 migrants moved, EUR152 million pocketed

Investigators estimate the group trafficked some 36,100 mostly Syrian refugees across the EU since the beginning of 2021. Authorities say each migrant paid between EUR3,000 and EUR4,500 for transport from Hungary to Vienna — which served as the gang’s trafficking hub — on route to Western European countries such as Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Investigators estimate the group made more than EUR152 million (£158 million) through their criminal activity. The suspected leader of the organization, a 28-year-old Romanian, was arrested in his home country on May 4.

Dead migrants and fabrication shops in gang’s Austrian hub

The group made headlines last October when Austrian authorities discovered the bodies of two dead Syrians in a van packed with 27 others during an inspection at the Hungarian border. The driver fled the scene but was later arrested in Latvia.

He was then extradited to Austria. In an incident this January, the driver of another truck fired at an Austrian army conscript when he attempted to halt the vehicle for inspection. The driver of the truck was later arrested in Hungary.

Police in Austria impounded 80 vehicles at various fabricating shops around Vienna on Thursday. It was there that vehicles were retrofitted to facilitate the hiding of those migrants being trafficked.

Austria says it has good reason to keep up border inspections

Austria this week extended inspections along its borders with Hungary and Slovenia — both of which are also part of the open-border Schengen Area — with Interior Minister Karner saying they give, “important insights into smuggling organizations and their procedures.” Just last month Austria was roundly criticized for the controls, with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that EU member states could only prolong border controls when, “confronted with a new serious threat affecting its public order or its internal security.”

Karner sought to stress the importance of the step to extend inspections, saying, “Gangs are at work for whom human life is completely irrelevant.”  

js/msh (AFP, dpa)




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