SKOPJE, North Macedonia — Police in North Macedonia have detained 26 migrants thought to have entered illegally from neighboring Greece, and arrested a suspected smuggler who had been driving them in a van toward the northern border with Serbia.
A police statement said the migrants from Syria, Pakistan, Egypt and India were detained early Tuesday after a patrol stopped their vehicle near the eastern town of Stip.
The driver, who is suspected of belonging to a migrant-smuggling gang, is a national of North Macedonia. The migrants were transferred to a reception center pending deportation to Greece.
The relaxation of pandemic-era restrictions has brought an increase in the numbers of migrants taking the Balkan route into Europe’s prosperous heartland. Police in North Macedonia have recorded a roughly 100% increase in people illegally entering the country so far this year, compared with the same period in 2021.
More than 11,000 people — mostly from Pakistan, Syria and India — have been stopped so far this year. About 90% of them are thought to have come through Greece, which in turn they entered from Turkey. They usually pay criminal gangs to help them on their clandestine journey.