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North Macedonian police arrest six people over migrant smuggling ring

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Refugees walk towards the Serbian border near the North Macedonian village of Tabanovce.
Refugees walk towards the Serbian border near the North Macedonian village of Tabanovce.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski, FILE
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Police in North Macedonia say they have busted an organised migrant smuggling ring operating around Skopje.

The criminal group had been smuggling refugees from the Middle East through Greece, posing as "climbers", police said.

The authorities conducted searches at eleven locations in the capital city, as well as the towns of Veles, Stip, Strumica, and Valandovo. Six people, aged between 26 and 56, have been detained.

The arrests came after a large-scale "coordinated police operation", a statement read on Tuesday.

Police also seized money, mobile phones, SIM cards, half a kilogram of marijuana, and "other items of interest" as part of the raids.

They suspect that the criminal ring was led by a 33-year-old man from the central town of Veles, who has been named only as R.Dz.

"Together with two people from the Middle East, he led a criminal group in Northern Macedonia, which ... organised the smuggling of migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Bangladesh and other countries in the Middle East," the statement added.

Police said the migrants were illegally brought into the country from neighbouring Greece through the southern border near Gevgelija, Strumica, and Demir Kapija.

"With the help of guides the so-called "climbers" were then brought to pre-determined and agreed locations," police added.

The migrants were then transported in passenger and freight vehicles to Serbia and the European Union.

Police estimate that the migrants had paid the smugglers between €500 and €700 each to illegally enter the country.

Four members of the criminal group were already serving prison sentences for "migrant smuggling". Authorities are still searching for three more suspects as part of the investigation.