Illegal migrants are paying up to €10,000 each to be escorted to the Bulgarian border with Serbia, Bulgarian authorities revealed on Tuesday following a crackdown on clandestine networks that saw 92 people charged with smuggling offenses.
The hugely profitable model operated by smugglers along the Balkan migratory route sees migrants picked up in Turkey and smuggled across the border into Bulgaria, an operation Bulgarian authorities, working in tandem with Europol are attempting to stamp out.
Following an “action day” on Monday in which authorities swept in to arrest dozens for organizing and facilitating illegal migration, Siyka Mileva, the spokesperson for the Bulgarian prosecutor general, revealed during a press conference that the standard fee for assisting a migrant to pass through Bulgaria up to the country’s western border with Serbia is between €2,000 and €3,000.
This fee can often rise up to €10,000 for a “VIP service,” which typically involves moving a handful of individuals, up to small groups of five or six people.
This figure does not include assistance in crossing the border into Serbia, and even then migrants face the daunting task of traveling north to ultimately breach the European Union’s external border into Hungary, which they often travel through to reach Western Europe.
The Bulgarian border with Turkey has become more volatile with smuggling gangs increasing their activities in recent times. Last year, several incidents occurred at the border resulting in on-duty police officers being shot dead.
“These incidents suggest an increase of both the smuggling activities and the violence of the involved criminal networks,” Europol noted.
Despite the arrests, Mileva believes harsher sentences are required to begin to eliminate the growing problem.
“Several times the Interior Ministry and we as prosecutors have expressed the opinion that the penalties given for facilitating illegal migration are extremely low. Most of the sentences are suspended,” Mileva told reporters.
The Jan.16 “action day” saw 92 people arrested across Bulgaria, Turkey, and Serbia. A total of 624 locations, 4,202 vehicles, and 7,019 individuals were searched as part of the operation.