On January 16, Europol supported Bulgarian authorities during a large-scale action day against organized crime groups involved in migrant smuggling.
The activities, coordinated by the Bulgarian Public Prosecutor and involving the General Directorate for Combating Organised Crime, the National Police and the Border Police, targeted criminal networks active along the Balkan route. The Bulgarian investigations were also coordinated with the Turkish and the Serbian authorities and other partner agencies.
The joint action day on January 16 led to 92 people being charged in connection with migrant smuggling. The actions took place across Bulgaria and focused on a number of networks smuggling migrants from Türkiye, via Bulgaria, to Serbia and then Western Europe. The main organizers of the networks active along this route are based in Bulgaria, Serbia and Türkiye. They have created their own national networks of members responsible for the transport and accommodation in their respective countries.
The main modes of transportation used by the smugglers were vans, campers and buses. The prices for the full smuggling service in larger groups varied between EUR 2,000 and 3,000 per person. If the migrants were smuggled in a smaller group of 5-6 people, the payments were reaching up to EUR 10,000. Payments for the full trip would be made after the main organizer from Türkiye had confirmed that the migrants had reached the Bulgarian-Serbian border.
Bulgarian authorities have reported an increase in migrant smuggling activities at their southern border. In August 2022 an incident, which involved a bus transporting irregular migrants, led to the death of two police officers on duty. Later the same year, an officer from Bulgaria’s Border Police was shot dead during regular patrol at the green border with Türkiye. These incidents suggest an increase of both the smuggling activities and the violence of the involved criminal networks.
At the end of last year, Europol increased its support for Bulgarian authorities with the deployment of a dedicated analyst. On the action day, 16 January, Europol also deployed an expert to Sofia to provide real-time analytical support and cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases.