How are Foreign Smugglers Affecting the Migrant Route Through Croatia?

Two Turkish citizens arrived in Sarajevo from Istanbul on September 10 and arranged for smugglers to transport them to France and Germany for 4,000 and 6,000 euros respectively. They were met in Sarajevo and taken to a location near the Croatian border. They set out on foot, crossing the border after a three-hour walk. A Zagreb architect drove them to the border, but were stopped by police. The details of the journey come from accounts given by the Turkish citizens to prosecutors in Karlovac, southwest of Zagreb.

They have since filed an indictment against the architect, identified by the initials V.M. V.M. faces the prospect of one to eight years behind bars. According to 2023 Croatian interior ministry data, foreigners now account for 70% of suspected people smugglers arrested in Croatia, including Serbs, Bosnians, Slovenians, Afghans, and Uzbeks. Between January and October, 1,103 people were arrested, Croatian and foreign citizens, up from 672 last year. In the Karlovac region alone, acts of migrant smuggling increased by 217% over the same period.

Croatia is converting a former military facility in Dugi Dol village into a new migrant registration center, aiming to address the increasing number of migrants crossing borders. The Karlovac region, located on the shortest route between northwestern Bosnia and southern Slovenia, is known for its wooded terrain, providing good cover for refugees and migrants. A recent report submitted to parliament revealed that the area of the Karlovac Police Administration is facing the greatest pressure, with about a third of illegal border crossing operations recorded.

The government reported a 73% increase in police operations against illegal border crossings in the first ten months of this year compared to the same period last year. The police have received help from other units of the interior ministry, and numbers are adjusted based on the security situation on the ground. In Dugi Dol, migrants often hitch a ride on trucks, unnoticed by drivers who stop at the café for a coffee break. Truck drivers transport migrants without even knowing it, and they often learn how to open the trucks through the tarpaulin from above.

Smugglers in Croatia are taking 2,000 euros per migrant or refugee they transport through the country, according to a local expert. The migrants and refugees are younger men aged 16 to 30 who travel in groups, often speaking English for communication. They have topographical maps, cell phones, solar chargers, and everything they need. The police have stepped up surveillance, and while illegal migration cases have increased, they reported a decrease in September and October.

Authorities insist that migrants and refugees will not be housed long-term in Dugi Dol but will be registered, photographed, and fingerprinted before being moved elsewhere. Some residents of Krnjak have protested, but Deputy Mayor Josip Ljevar believes that the initial storm has passed and that migration should be kept under police control. The government has promised Krnjak funding for infrastructure, including street lighting, to alleviate fears. However, some residents are concerned about the potential for excesses or complications, as they have two children.

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