BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Police in Serbia said they rounded up hundreds of migrants and found automatic weapons during a raid Tuesday along the border with Hungary, the location of frequently reported clashes between groups of smugglers exploiting the hardship of people trying to reach Western Europe.
Thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia travel along the land route that leads west from Turkey and through the Balkans. Serbia lies at the heart of the migration route.
Serbian police said officers found 371 migrants during a sweep near the border towns of Subotica, Kikinda and Sombor, along with three automatic riles, one semi-automatic rifle and a hand gun. The migrants were taken to state-run reception centers, a police statement said.
Earlier Tuesday, Serbian state TV network RTS reported that one person died and three were wounded during an armed clash near the border with Hungary. Serbian Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic said police are focused on curbing both clashes among migrants and any criminal acts.
Previous clashes among members of people-smuggling gangs often have resulted in casualties. Facing closed borders, migrants often turn to people smugglers to guide them through clandestine routes.
“The state won't allow anyone to abuse our hospitality and jeopardize the security of our citizens,” Gasic said. Police actions are “carefully planned” and include “elite” officers, he added.
In recent months, Serbian media have reported frequent gunfire and explosions in the border area, where smugglers appear to be fighting for control. Police said the forested region is hard to access and that some of the migrants were found hiding among tree branches.
Hungary's right-wing government erected double razor wire on the border with Serbia to stop migrants and refugees from entering without authorization. Migration experts in Serbia say Hungarian authorities push hundreds of migrants back into Serbia on a daily basis, crowding the border area and fueling smuggling.
Pushbacks, the forcible return of people across an international border without an assessment of their rights to apply for asylum or other protection, violate both international and European Union law.
Serbian police said special patrols would be established in the border zone to boost security.
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