KABUL – In a chilling revelation, rival people-smuggling groups from Afghanistan, Morocco, and Syria have been arming themselves in northern Serbia, leading to a dangerous and deadly escalation of violence in a bid to smuggle hordes of refugees from dangerous Serbian borders. This alarming situation, as reported by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), has put refugees and migrants in grave danger, with the weapons often supplied by Albanian criminal gangs.
According to reports, one refugee was killed and at least 7 were injured in a battlefield involving automatic weapons between rival people-smuggling gangs, both originating from Afghanistan, in Serbia’s northern border with Hungary.
This alarming trend is unique to Serbia, where reports of armed clashes between these criminal organizations, profiting immensely from smuggling refugees and migrants into the European Union, have been on the rise. Not even larger settlements like Horgos, a border town, have been spared. In November of the previous year, a gunfight erupted between Moroccans and Afghans in the town center, injuring six individuals. Video footage of the clash even showed armed men running near a local elementary school. In subsequent months, more armed clashes occurred, resulting in casualties.
Previous investigations by BIRN have uncovered the troubling collusion between these criminal groups and corrupt law enforcement officers. However, a new investigation has unveiled the extent of their weaponry and its origins.
Over a six-month period, BIRN meticulously monitored the activities of these smuggling rings in Serbia, collecting and verifying real-time information from various independent sources, including insiders within the smuggling networks, police, security services, informants, and collaborators. This evidence, including audio, photo, and video materials, corroborated by independent sources within law enforcement and the smuggling networks, points to Albanian criminal groups, particularly the Xhemshiti twins, Amir and Amar, from Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, as the primary suppliers of pistols and Kalashnikovs used by these smuggling gangs.
Despite the evident danger posed by these armed groups, the Serbian police seem powerless or unwilling to disarm them. Shockingly, audio recordings obtained by BIRN reveal that members of the ‘400/59’ Afghan gang were filmed atop border police jeeps in a forest near Subotica. Border officers were reportedly inside a tent at the time, conversing with gang leaders and profiting from their activities. The police confiscated the money, as one member can be heard saying.
Moreover, BIRN possesses recordings of calls and WhatsApp messages between Afghan smugglers and a mediator who attempted to negotiate the surrender of weapons in exchange for immunity to continue their activities. This arrangement failed to materialize, leading to continued clashes.
Fatjona Mejdini, director of the SEE Observatory of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, expressed concerns about the situation in northern Serbia, emphasizing the need for a more effective response from Serbian authorities. She suggested that corruption within the police might be aiding smugglers in acquiring weapons and facilitating their operations.
The conflict between these smugglers, fighting for a rapidly expanding market, remains a pressing issue, with the potential for further escalation. In this illicit trade, arms have become an integral component, making it imperative for authorities to address this issue promptly and decisively.