Migrant Smuggling in Europe Is Now Worth ‘Billions’

By RICK LYMAN and ALISON SMALE, NEW YORK TIMES, SEPT 3, 2015

BUDAPEST — With thousands of migrants pouring out of Afghanistan and the Middle East, the business of smuggling them across the Balkans into the European Union has grown even larger than the illicit trade in drugs and weapons, law enforcement officials said.

In Greece alone, there are 200 such smuggling rings, said Col. Gerald Tatzgern, head of the Austrian police service fighting human trafficking.

“It has developed into a business worth billions,” said Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the interior minister of Austria. Smugglers have spread out through the region, in Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia, she added.

Their presence is evident at Budapest’s Keleti train station, where thousands have had their route to the West cut off by Hungarian officials. The smugglers’ agents roam the crowd, quietly offering rides to Austria for hundreds of dollars.

But the memory is fresh of the 71 migrants found suffocated in the back of a sealed truck along an Austrian highway last week, abandoned by their smugglers.

In another case, the police rescued 24 Afghans from a sealed truck after a chase through the streets of Vienna. “One hour longer and they would have been dead,” Ms. Mikl-Leitner said.

Rob Wainwright, head of Europol, Europe’s police agency, told Newstalk, an Irish radio network, that an estimated 30,000 people were involved in human smuggling gangs. Europol has opened 1,400 cases this year involving human smuggling, he said.

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