Routes via Bulgaria, Hungary Increasingly Used by Migrants, Austria Says
Austrian criminal authorities are registering an increased preference by migrants for a route via Bulgaria and Hungary that will take them to Western Europe, Austrian media say.
According to Austrian newspaper Die Presse's website, there has been an increase in the numbers of migrants crossing into Bulgaria and Hungary after the border between Macedonia and Greece was sealed off.
Macedonia imposed in February restrictions on its frontier, allowing only dozens of migrants to cross into the country from Greece and barring access to "economic migrants" whose country of origin is neither Syria nor Iraq.
However, "[people] smugglers are seeking not to lose their business," Die Presse quotes Gerald Tatzgern, an official with the Federal Criminal Service of Austria, as telling the morning program of ?1 TV station.
Leiter, who heads the anti-smuggling unit of the agency, said smugglers were active in the bigger refugee camps in Turkey, and apart from Greece more intensive activities were already being observed in Bulgaria as well.
Hundreds of smuggler networks of 10-15 people on average were active in the Balkans, Leiter added.
Bulgaria has not been on the major route for migrants over the past months, as stepped up security measures along its borders with Turkey (where a fence has been erected) and Greece, but also complaints of irregular migrants about pushbacks and beatings by Bulgarian border police have discouraged many migrants from trying. The Bulgarian route, on the other hand, is said to be a more expensive offer by smugglers as it does not involve a perilous sea journey as the one across the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey.
A "revival of the dangerous sea routes" could also be expected, Die Presse also quotes "news agencies" as saying.
Leiter's comments follow an agreement "in principle" between the EU and Turkey to curb the flow of migrants which has virtually closed the so-called Western Balkans route from Greece into Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and then Germany.
Bulgaria's Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova on Wednesday confirmed there is a danger of increased migratory pressure on Bulgaria, but argued Bulgaria was holding on to its border protection commitments.
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