Austrian government dismantles international migrant smuggling group

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By AFP  with Euronews
Austrian policemen check vehicles at the Hungarian border near Nickelsdorf.
Austrian policemen check vehicles at the Hungarian border near Nickelsdorf.   -   Copyright  Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP, File

Austria's government says it has dismantled an international criminal network that was smuggling refugees into central Europe.

A total of 205 people have been arrested for allegedly trafficking thousands of Syrian migrants, according to a statement.

"It is a great success against organised crime and a blow against the smuggling mafia," said Interior Minister Gerhard Karner.

Investigators began the operation in 2021 and say the group had transported more than 36,000 children and adults to countries in Western Europe, such as Germany and France.

Authorities say the criminal network had amassed an estimated €152 million in recent months.

Many of the refugees reportedly paid between €3,000 and €4,500 to be trafficked through Hungary and Austria.

The arrests took place in several countries, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, while 80 vehicles were seized.

The suspects are also allegedly linked to the deaths of two migrants last year, who were found crammed in a van at the Hungarian border

The driver of the vehicle initially fled the scene but has since been arrested in Latvia, the Austrian interior ministry said.

In January, another suspected smuggler in the group shot an Austrian soldier as he tried to escape a checkpoint. He was later arrested in Hungary.

Austria has recently stepped up its border controls, citing an increase in migration and terror threats.