Smuggling truck capsizes in North Macedonia, injuring 35 migrants

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Undocumented migrants follow the train tracks in Veles, North Macedonia, on their way to Western Europe, August 14, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI

Some 35 migrants were injured on Wednesday evening when the truck they were traveling in capsized on the road linking the village of Udovo to the town of Gevgelija, near the border between North Macedonia and Greece.

According to the Interior Ministry, the injured migrants were held in the loading area of ​​the truck which capsized. A total of 49 migrants were discovered at the crash site.

Two of the injured migrants have serious injuries, while the others suffered minor injuries, Strumica region police spokeswoman Aleksandra Trajanova told media.

“According to the statements of the migrants, they are all from Syria, because some of them had travel documents and some did not,” Trajanova said.

Medical teams from the neighboring towns of Gevgelija, Kavadarci and Negotino were called in and many injured people were taken to hospitals in these towns.

The two seriously injured people were transferred to the capital, Skopje, where doctors said their condition was “stable”. The others, according to the authorities, have been transferred to a transit center for migrants.

The Interior Ministry said it received a report of the accident at 6:10 p.m., adding that it was a large truck with an attached trailer, with license plates from Skopje. The driver fled, the ministry said.

Although the so-called “Balkan migrant route”, of which North Macedonia was a part, was officially closed in 2016, the flow of migrants and refugees from countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria through the region has never dried up.

Some alternative routes through the Balkans have been found, but large numbers of people still use the original route from Turkey to Greece, then North Macedonia and Serbia to Central and Western Europe.

The Home Office said in mid-July that the pace of migrant smuggling across the country had accelerated since 2020. That year, police uncovered more than 100 cases of smuggling and uncovered some 2 700 illegal migrants.

In 2021, the police uncovered 64 cases and uncovered 815 illegal migrants, and in the first half of this year they uncovered some 400 illegal migrants.

“The largest percentage of cases, almost 75%, were discovered by police officers in the central-southern region,” near the border with Greece, the interior ministry said in July.

A report on North Macedonia released in July by the US State Department, referring to 2021, said that North Macedonia “does not fully meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making considerable efforts to achieve this”.

These efforts included convicting more traffickers, imposing significant sentences, identifying more victims, and stepping up overall prevention efforts.

Among the shortcomings noted in the report are insufficient funds and equipment for the authorities to conduct proactive investigations and then deal with all court cases.

“Inadequate identification efforts and corruption put potential victims at risk of being penalized for the crimes they were coerced into committing. Official complicity in trafficking crimes remains a concern,” the report concludes.

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