Targeting logistics: drivers’ migrant smuggling cell dismantled in Bulgaria

On 4 October, Europol supported Bulgarian authorities in dismantling a migrant smuggling group active at the periphery of the so-called Balkan route. The criminal group is believed to have been acting as a logistical cell of a larger migrant smuggling network active across several European countries.

For the past months, officers from the Bulgarian General Directorate Combating Organised Crime have been investigating the network to establish the role the suspects have played in the migrant smuggling activities. The investigative activities established that this logistical migrant smuggling cell facilitated the transportation by car of irregular migrant from the eastern part of Bulgaria (the cities of Burgas and Yambol) to Sofia and later to the Bulgarian border with Serbia. The transportation of the migrants was arranged in two stages: first to Sofia and later to the border with Serbia. In Sofia, the migrants were moved to remote locations to avoid police attention. The migrants were charged between EUR 1 000 and EUR 3 000 per person to reach the Serbian border. The smugglers transported between 10 and 30 migrants at a time. The gathered operational information suggests that this logistical cell is part of a larger criminal network smuggling migrants from Türkiye to Western Europe through Bulgaria and Serbia.

The action day on 4 October led to:
5 arrests (Bulgarian nationals)
7 house searches

Seizures, including car rental documents and contracts for purchases and sales of cars, other documents related to the criminal activities, electronic equipment and EUR 10 000 in cash
Joint efforts to fight smuggling networks active across the Balkan route
Since mid-2022, Bulgarian authorities have reported a sharp increase in migrant smuggling activities on their southern border and an increase in violence perpetrated by members of the involved criminal networks against migrants and police officers. Following several deadly incidents involving numerous deaths of police officers and migrants, Bulgarian authorities have further increased their efforts to tackle migrant smuggling networks active using Bulgaria as a transit country.

At the end of last year, Europol increased its support for Bulgarian authorities with the deployment of a dedicated analyst. On the action day on 4 October, Europol deployed an expert to Sofia to provide real-time analytical support and cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases. This operation follows the recent establishment of a Europol-coordinated Regional Operational Task Force, based in Sofia, which is focusing on criminal networks smuggling migrants across Bulgaria towards Western Europe.