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Albania busts gang trafficking migrants into EU, arrests 8

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TIRANA (Reuters) – Albanian police said on Wednesday they had broken up a criminal gang trafficking Syrian, Turkish and Iraqi migrants to western Europe from Greece and had arrested eight people including the Turkish ringleader.

The gang spirited the migrants from the mountainous region along the southern border with Greece across Albania and into Montenegro to the north, a police statement said, whence they apparently proceeded into neighbouring Croatia, the nearest European Union territory, and points further north and west.

The migrants paid unspecified though considerable sums to the gang, it said. It was the first known significant strike on people traffickers in Albania, which aspires to join the EU but has struggled with a reputation for lawlessness.

The EU’s Frontex border agency began patrolling Albania’s border with Greece three weeks ago to fight illegal migration and organised crime, Frontex’s first operation outside the EU.

Eduart Merkaj, the Albanian border police chief, said 229 undocumented migrants had been intercepted along the Greek border since Frontex deployed on May 22.

(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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