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Serbia detains migrant smugglers

Three Serbian nationals were arrested after security forces prevented them from smuggling 64 Afghans to western Europe. Authorities found a van packed with immigrants near the Bulgarian border.

A joint army and police patrol arrested three suspects who allegedly used two cars and a van to transport the refugee group, the Serbian defense ministry said on Tuesday.

Authorities discovered 34 people inside the van, including young children, a baby, and a pregnant woman. The remaining 30 Afghan migrants were waiting nearby to be transported in the passengers cars.

The security forces discovered the van at Zajecar, which is only 15 minutes away from the Serbian border with Bulgaria.

All three of the suspects were from Belgrade, according to Serbian authorities. They were in custody and awaiting a court hearing on Tuesday afternoon.

Return of Balkan route?

Serbia is located on the so-called Balkan route, the main corridor used by millions of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who sail the Mediterranean in a bid to reach wealthy western and northern European countries and where they then can apply for asylum.

The route has effectively been blocked by Balkan countries closing the borders and Turkey agreeing to prevent the refugees from reaching the EU. Around 4,500 people remain stranded in Serbia, UN refugee agency UNHCR says.

Many fear that the route could regain its earlier popularity if the deal between EU and Ankara breaks down, with both sides hinting at the possibility in light of a dispute over free travel for Turkish citizens.

Watch video 01:53

Bulgaria's budget feels the pinch from the refugee crisis

dj/kms (dpa, Beta)

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