BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbian police said Tuesday they have detained six people for smuggling 78 migrants trying to reach the European Union.
Police said they discovered the migrants in two separate incidents near the Bulgarian border — 37 migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan were hidden in a van intercepted on a regional road, while another 41 people from Syria have been caught crossing illegally from Bulgaria.
Serbia has announced stepping up efforts to stop the migrant influx, including forming joint police and army teams that will patrol the borders with Bulgaria and Macedonia. The country wants to avoid a migrant pileup after EU member Hungary recently introduced tough anti-migrant measures.
The Serbian army commander, Gen. Ljubisa Dikovic, and senior police official Vladimir Rebic jointly toured the border area with Bulgaria on Tuesday, a statement from the Defense Ministry said.
The statement said the joint forces are “currently being formed,” but didn’t specify when they will take up positions. An army general will be in charge, the statement added.
The Balkan route was closed in March, but the flow of migrants has persisted, with several hundred people entering Serbia from Bulgaria and Macedonia. Hundreds have been trapped in makeshift camps along the Serbia-Hungary border with no facilities.
Migrants fleeing war and poverty in their countries want to reach wealthy EU nations such as Germany or Sweden. But the EU countries also have been eager to stem the flow after more than 1 million people arrived in 2015.
Many migrants have been travelling down the more hazardous way over the Mediterranean, where they risk drowning.