North Macedonia has arrested 10 suspected members of an international people smuggling ring following a two-year investigation, The Associated Press (AP) reported, citing an official statement from the local police.
The group is described by local law enforcement as a sophisticated criminal organization operating a route between Greece and Hungary as well as from Bulgaria and Serbia to various destinations in the EU, charging each migrant between 2,000 and 4,000 euros ($2,140 and $4,280), according to The AP.
“Smuggling activity has increased in the region in recent weeks, in part because of low water levels along the Evros River that forms a natural border between Turkey and European Union-member Greece,” The AP said.
Last week, Greece arrested five police officers from a special border guard force on suspicion of working with smugglers to help migrants cross into the country from Turkey.
Both Greece and Turkey have substantial populations of refugees and migrants. Stronger patrols by Greek authorities, assisted by the EU border agency, have restricted flows in recent years after nearly a million people made the journey in 2015.
In December four Turkish nationals were arrested on suspicion of smuggling migrants after a boat with nearly 100 people on board was found in trouble off an island near Athens.
Last year Italian, Albanian and Greek police in a joint operation arrested 30 people accused of profiteering several hundred million euros to smuggle refugees and migrants into European countries from Turkey on yachts and other leisure boats.
The Greek government is planning to proceed with the expansion of a fence by 35 kilometers along its northern border with Turkey to deter refugees.
Greece has already built a 40-kilometer (25 mile) fence near the Evros River on the border with Turkey to prevent illegal migrants from entering the country, and a decision to extend the fence along the entire border with Turkey was reached last August.