Police raid homes in a Macedonian village as part of a people smuggling investigation – a week after a reporter for Channel 4 News traced a kidnap gang to the area.
Four people were arrested and 128 migrants, including women and children, were detained by police in the raids on 10 locations in the village of Vaksintse.
The migrants were not arrested, but “held as witnesses to the investigation into the smuggling of illegal immigrants”.
A week before the 11 June raids, journalist Ramita Navai visited the village to investigate reports that a kidnap gang was holding migrants at one of the houses there.
Using the GPS co-ordinates from two men who say they were held in the village, Navai found the house where migrants were reportedly being beaten and held for ransom – forced to pay anywhere from €500 to €1,000 for release (see video, below).
When Macedonian police carried out the raids, the house visited by Channel 4 News was now empty. However, migrants – from Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries – were found in five locations.
Four local Macedonian citizens, owners of the houses where migrants were found, were arrested and charged with “trafficking illegal migrants”. The Macedonian homeowners say they were renting the properties to a third person for around €1,500.
A man named as “Ali Baba” was repeatedly identified to Channel 4 News as the leader of the Vaksintse kidnap operation.
None of the migrants detained in the police operation spoke about people smugglers, being kidnapped or extorted, or mentioned “Ali Baba”, but the interior minister has told Channel 4 News that their investigation is ongoing.
The migrants said they were paying between €5 and €10 a night for a roof over their heads.
Some of the migrants have been transferred to an asylum centre near the Macedonian capital Skopje. It is an open centre so they may have now left. Other migrants being held are yet to give statements.
Separately to the Vaksince case, police in neighbouring Serbia said on Thursday they had arrested two police officers and another six people suspected of trafficking people, for a fee, from Belgrade to Subotica, near the border with EU member Hungary. Channel 4 News understand the arrests in Serbia are linked to the Vaksince raids.