Police in North Macedonia say officers discovered 82 migrants hidden in vehicles in two separate operations Friday.
Police said a joint team of border officers from North Macedonia and Slovenia found 62 people hidden in a truck on the main north-south highway near the border with Greece and arrested two Serbian nationals, ages 33 and 37. The majority of passengers, 46, were from Pakistan, 13 were from Eritrea and three were from Mali.
Earlier Saturday, police had announced that officers doing a routine vehicle check found a group of 20 people from Bangladesh in a van on a major highway near North Macedonia’s border with Serbia. The officers arrested the van’s 44-year-old Macedonian driver.
A social worker was interviewing the nine minors from the group to determine whether they were traveling alone or with parents or guardians, according to a police statement.
All migrants have been transferred to shelter center in southern border town of Gevgelija, pending deportation to Greece, where they are believed to have entered North Macedonia from, police said.
Despite border closures and restrictions on movement during the COVID-19 pandemic, people-smuggling gangs have remained active in the Balkans.
North Macedonia is a transit route for migrants heading north from Greece to wealthier European nations. Hundreds of thousands have traveled through the country over the last eight years.