Serbia tries to stem continued Balkan migrant flow

ZAJECAR, Serbia (AP) " Over 2,000 migrants were prevented from crossing from Bulgaria and 24 people smugglers were caught in less than a month in an effort to curb the influx of people seeking to reach the European Union through the Balkans, Serbian border guards said Monday.

Serbia has recently deployed joint army and police patrols on its border with Bulgaria where migrants have been arriving through illegal routes, mostly guided by people smugglers and often attacked and robbed by locals. Most of the migrants want to cross further north to Hungary before continuing to wealthier EU states.

Serbia's military spokesman Jovan Krivokapic said that 2,275 people " mostly Syrians, Afghans and Pakistanis " have been turned back since the joint patrols were introduced on July 22. He said 454 migrants who were caught inside Serbia were transferred to refugee centers.

"They are trying to cross over mountain passes, through thick forests, along river beds by using the smugglers," Krivokapic told The Associated Press.

He said that the smugglers increasingly use minors to help the migrants over the border " an attempt to evade harsher prison sentences leveled against mature offenders.

"Criminal charges have been filed against most of the smugglers and they are in police custody," Krivokapic said. "They are mostly Serbian citizens."

Balkan nations closed their borders to migrants in March. Last year, over 1 million people crossed the Balkans as they fled wars and poverty in their home countries. After the closure, the numbers of those still attempting the route have dropped from thousands a day to hundreds.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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