SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian police arrested 19 people, including five police officers, suspected of trafficking migrants, the interior minister said on Wednesday.
Three more suspected members of the same gang remained at large after the pre-dawn arrests. The group is also suspected of robberies and arms and drugs trafficking.
“The group started operating in early 2015 on the domestic and international level ... the investigation showed that the group organised the smuggling of at least 550 migrants,” Interior Minister Mitko Cavkov told a news conference.
With unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees entering Europe, in February Balkan countries shut their borders to those trying to head north to wealthy western European Union countries, but many are still attempting the journey, some using human trafficking networks.
In neighbouring Serbia on Tuesday, police detained six suspected human traffickers, while 78 migrants were discovered attempting to cross the country illegally.
Bulgarian police arrested 45 migrants attempting to cross to Serbia on Tuesday.
Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Robin Pomeroy