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Austrian police crack international people-smuggling gang

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Austrian police crack international people-smuggling gang
Migrants crammed into a small boat in the Mediterranean. File photo: UNHCR/L.Boldrini
17:22 CET+01:00
Police in Lower Austria have busted an unscrupulous people-smuggling gang which raked in around €15m over the past decade by sending migrants to Vienna by boat, plane and overland - often in the most awful conditions.

The Turkish gang used “three trafficking routes through the Balkans and Ukraine to transport people illegally to Vienna,” Lower Austrian police director Franz Prucher said. One recent case involved seven men who were imprisoned for four days in a tanker with a litre of water.

Congratulating the police on their work, Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said that "our strategy of international networking is the most successful weapon in the fight against this mafia". Police officers from Hungary and Serbia also helped to track down the ruthless gang.

Ten people of Turkish origin have been arrested for transporting migrants and refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan - and charging them €8,000 per head for “travel costs”. From Vienna, some were then transported illegally to Germany, Sweden or France. Sobotka said that thousands of mainly young male economic migrants had stayed in Austria.

Three gang members are still on the run - Turkish men aged 30, 48 and 50 - who are believed to have organised the transports from Istanbul to Vienna, and kept most of the profits.  "These people do not care about borders, about laws, they are only concerned with profit, and are completely indifferent to human suffering,” Prucher said.

A 39-year-old Kosovan man was also arrested in Macedonia for recruiting smugglers for the gang and organising new routes.

Sobotka said that people-smuggling gangs are now able to earn money “well beyond what illegal drug gangs make” and called for a complete closure of the Balkan migrant route as a way of shutting down the people smugglers' business model.

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