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Austria arrests 15 people suspected of smuggling migrants

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A police patrol in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 22, 2021.
A police patrol in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 22, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Lisa Leutner

Austrian authorities said Saturday they have arrested 15 people suspected of smuggling Syrian, Lebanese and Egyptian migrants into the country, and seized 14 vehicles that were used to transport them.

Police in Lower Austria province said they opened an investigation last month into the group that smuggled migrants from the Serbian-Hungarian border via Slovakia and the Czech Republic to Austria's northeastern corner. They were dropped off north of Vienna.

The 15 suspected smugglers — citizens of Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan — were arrested mostly in checks in mid-November on suspicious vehicles as well as at a Vienna hotel, police said in a statement. All of them tried to flee when they were stopped.

They allegedly loaded 12 to 15 people into the cars and vans used for the journeys, with the back seats removed and the back windows sprayed over.

The suspects transported more than 700 people at a total cost of more than €2.5 million, police said. The migrants were charged €4,000-5,000 per person for the trip, and said they planned to continue to Germany — either by train, or being picked up by relatives.

The alleged smugglers were recruited in their home countries via ads on social media offering work as drivers for €2,000-3,000 a month.