BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbian police said Friday they have found some 3,400 migrants and seized weapons and ammunition during a days-long crackdown on irregular migration in the wake of a shooting last week near the border with Hungary that killed three migrants and wounded one.
Earlier on Friday, police also said they arrested seven people smugglers in the capital Belgrade and in Subotica, a city near the border with Hungary.
Reports of violence and gun battles between people smuggling gangs have become common in the border zone between Serbia and Hungary, a European Union member state. Migrants have been camping in the area while looking for ways to cross into Hungary.
After the shooting last Saturday, police dispatched hundreds of officers to the forested border zone while pledging to curb irregular migration and restore security. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic even warned authorities could send in the military to deal with the problem.
Serbia lies at the heart of the so-called Balkan land route of migration toward Western Europe, which leads from Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria, and then on to North Macedonia, Serbia or Bosnia. Crossings along the Balkan land route usually intensify in the fall as bad weather prevents migrants from taking the perilous journey over the Mediterranean Sea.
Hungary’s staunchly anti-immigrant government has put up a razor-wire fence on the borders with Serbia to stop the influx, and has pushed back into Serbia migrants who enter Hungary. People smuggling gangs, however, have multiplied in the border area, often clashing for control.
Migrants pay people smugglers 2,350 euros ($2,500) each to cross from Serbia to Hungary, Serbian police said.
During week-long raids, police found five automatic rifles, five guns, over 1,500 pieces of ammunition and hundreds of passports, the statement said. Police also found a ladder, about 4 meter-high (3.3 feet), which migrants used to cross the border fence, they said.
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