European people-smuggling ring smashed

VIENNA (AFP) - Austrian police said Monday (July 25) that an international operation smashed an alleged people-smuggling ring suspected of illegally bringing more than 1,000 people from Hungary into western Europe over the past year.

More than 100 officers in Austria, Germany, Poland and Hungary raided 12 properties last Thursday, arresting seven people believed to be the ringleaders, police in Salzburg told reporters.

They would allegedly charge €300 (S$450) per person for transport from Hungary to Vienna and €700-€800 to get to Germany, transporting them in convoys of several cars and paying drivers €700 per journey.

"This remains a very lucrative business," said Gerald Tatzgern, Austria's senior official in charge of efforts to tackle human-smuggling.

Austria and Hungary last year became major transit countries for hundreds of thousands of migrants, many of them escaping violence in Syria and elsewhere, travelling up from Greece into western Europe.

Hungary has since closed its border with Serbia, which together with a deal between the European Union and Turkey has slowed the inflow dramatically. This has, however, prompted migrants to turn to smugglers.