Crossing borders: in a Belgrade café, codes, cash and a cut for the state
Despite the creation of a working group to fight human trafficking, according to a BIRN analysis of judicial cases since February 2017, the police and the prosecution have made little progress in bringing the bosses to justice.
Between February 2017 and March 2021, police arrested 210 individuals from 24 organized groups suspected of human trafficking, confiscating some 245,000 euros and 34 vehicles. However, a closer look at each case shows that most of those arrested were infantry – taxi or bus drivers trying to supplement their income, petty criminals and ordinary citizens tempted by the promise of quick money.
Dragan Cesto, deputy special prosecutor of Serbia and head of the migrant smuggling task force, told BIRN that he is aware that the sum of money is not huge and that the bosses are not put behind them. bars, but that it can only work with the evidence gathered.
“Whether they’re infantry or not, I work with the evidence we have and to prove foul play. It is the same with the amount of money. I know there is a lot more money in circulation, but we can’t always prove it, ”Cesto told BIRN.
On the other hand, a Syrian, identified by sources by the initials OJ, escaped arrest despite the fact that many sources – migrants and refugees, NGO experts and a security service source – have told BIRN he was one of the main smugglers in Serbia.
As a refugee from Syria, where civil war has raged for a decade, OJ is more likely than others to join the EU. Yet he has spent the past four and a half years in Serbia, usually only a transit country for the vast majority of refugees and migrants.
“The only reason he’s staying here is because he’s doing better in Serbia than he would in the West,” said one of the sources who identified him as a major smuggler.
A source close to OJ, who requested anonymity, said he was in fact protected by the Serbian Security Intelligence Agency, BIA.
“He has a lot of connections, including with BIA,” the source told BIRN. “They told him they know everything, but it’s okay as long as he helps them. When they are looking for someone, he must help them find him. I think he gives them a cut too.
Such a “cut” could be considerable. According to the source’s estimates, OJ’s smuggling ring brings in around 150,000 euros per month, which equates to about 61% of the total amount seized by the state task force in the span of four years.
A security service source, who declined to be named, also said OJ enjoys protection from the BIA, which has two representatives on the state’s task force to combat human trafficking. humans.
A number of other refugees told BIRN they had also been approached by BIA agents asking for collaboration, which the refugees said they refused.
Some migrants involved in trafficking also benefit from the protection of police structures. A BIA agent, who requested anonymity, cited the case of a Syrian smuggler identified by the initials AS and who he said was released after it emerged he was collaborating with Serbian police.
“Everyone was pissed off about it,” the agent said.