BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Authorities in Serbia on Thursday detained 85 migrants near the border with Hungary where a clash earlier this month apparently involving people smugglers left one person dead and several injured.
A police task force found automatic weapons, guns, knives and other weapons and ammunition during the sweep in the northern town of Subotica, police said in a statement.
Criminal charges have been filed against two migrants and six have been arrested, while the rest are suspected of less serious offenses, the statement said.
“No criminal gang will be exist without being uncovered and dismantled and its members punished according to law,” said Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin. “No one can carry guns in Serbia and no one can traffic in people.”
Vulin added that police have stepped up their operations in areas where smuggling gangs are active.
“Serbia won’t allow our way of life to be jeopardized in any way by criminals who profit on human misery and hardship,” he said.
Police described the operation as an “action designed to curb criminal acts and offenses committed by migrants."
The raid followed a major clash by groups of migrants in the border area in early July that left one person dead and several injured. Migrants gather by the Hungarian border hoping to cross from the Balkan country and move further west.
Sneaking over Serbia's northern border with the European Union neighbor often takes months because Hungary has put up two rows of barbed wire fence and deployed heavy security to stop migration. Migrants therefore often turn to people smugglers in order to continue their journey toward the EU's more prosperous nations.
The Serbian police statement said that special police and counterterrorism unit members, along with state security agents took part in the task force that carried out the operation early Thursday.
Police photos from the scene showed fully equipped officers wearing bulletproof vests and helmets standing guard over a group of migrants kneeling in a field with their hands over their heads.
Migrants fleeing wars, violence or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia routinely face perils on their long journeys toward better lives. From Serbia, migrants also cross into Croatia, Bosnia or Romania.
Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration
Jovana Gec, The Associated Press