Bulgaria arrests gang suspected of smuggling migrants to Western Europe

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2017 11:38 AM

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian authorities have detained a gang suspected of smuggling migrants from Iraq, Iran and Syria to Western Europe from Turkey, prosecutors said on Monday.

The gang of three Kurds and four Bulgarians was charged with smuggling offences after they transported migrants from Turkey into Serbia and Romania, both countries that border Bulgaria. One member of the group was still not detained, prosecutors said.

South Eastern Europe was a key point of transit for more than 1 million migrants from the Middle East and Africa who came to Europe in 2015. Many came to escape conflict in Syria.

Very few of them, however, stayed in Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest state. Instead, most prefer to journey onwards to wealthier western EU countries like Germany and Sweden.

The influx provoked a political crisis for the European Union. Flows of migrants have diminished since then, though the bloc is yet to agree on a migration policy.

"The evidence gathered indicates that the final destination of the migrants were Western Europe's countries," a spokesman for the prosecutors office told Reuters, adding that some migrants came from countries other than Iraq, Iran and Syria.

The migrants paid 2,000 euros ($2,360.60) each for their transportation from Turkey to the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

Bulgaria built a fence on its border with Turkey and has bolstered its border controls to prevent illegal migration.

Last month Bulgarian authorities smashed another gang suspected of smuggling migrants into Western Europe.

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(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)