By Stefan J. Bos
Police in North Macedonia announced that they found 36 migrants who entered the Balkan nation illegally from neighboring Greece. They were discovered packed in a truck during a routine check. Police said that the driver was detained.
Police officers reportedly stopped the truck near the southern town of Strumitsa the previous day. They said the three dozen people in the vehicle included 21 Syrians, nine Afghans, three Pakistanis, two Iraqis, and one person from Cameroon.
All passengers were transferred to a migrant detention center in the border town of Gevgelija, pending deportation to Greece.
The case underscored growing desperation among migrants fleeing war, persecution, and poverty. The Balkan route from Greece through the Balkans and on to Europe’s wealthy heartland has been closed since 2015. But thousands still pay large sums to smugglers to make their way to more prosperous European Union nations.
The North Macedonian prosecutor’s office said Wednesday it was filing charges in a separate case against a German man and an Italian woman suspected of smuggling migrants. They allegedly attempted to smuggle three men into the country from Greece this month in a car with German license plates.
Officials said the men from Ghana were given fake Dutch, Swedish, and German identity documents and that their final destination was Austria.
Both suspected smugglers are in custody pending trial, and if found guilty, they could receive up to five years in prison.
The case comes while in EU member state Hungary, which closed of the Balkan route with anti-migration fences, four Hungarian men were sentenced for human smuggling. The men received from three to five years of imprisonment.
They allegedly brought migrants across the country from the south to the north-western border and occasionally into western European nations.