Albania smashes major migrant smuggling ring

Albanian police dismantled the biggest human trafficking ring uncovered since the start of the migrant crisis (AFP Photo/GENT SHKULLAKU)

Tirana (AFP) - Albanian police dismantled the biggest human trafficking ring uncovered since the start of the migrant crisis, arresting 18 people in a series of stings, public prosecutors said Wednesday.

The alleged traffickers were accused of smuggling people from the Middle East and North Africa into Austria and Germany, a prosecutors' statement said.

The police operation, carried out from last September, revealed a network that was "well organised and transferring the migrants through Greece and then through Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Hungary, to Austria and Germany," a public prosecutors office spokesman told AFP.

The traffickers were charging between 900 and 1,250 euros ($963 and 1,338) for the journey, spokesman Albi Serani said.

In a separate crackdown on Albanian human traffickers, five people were arrested on Tuesday in the French port city of Calais.

For years Calais has been a staging post for migrants seeking a way into Britain by stowing away on trucks or trains crossing the Channel.

Albania lies on the so-called Balkans route taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa seeking to escape war and poverty in their countries on their way to western Europe.

The route was effectively shut down in March last year, but migrants have continued to cross the region in smaller numbers -- a few hundred a day -- often being helped by traffickers.

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