Serbia has prevented more than 2,000 refugees from crossing into the country from Bulgaria in recent weeks in an attempt to stem the flow of asylum seekers to Europe via the Balkan states.
Jovan Krivokapic, Serbia’s military spokesman, said 2,275 people had been turned back since joint police and army patrols began near the Bulgarian border on July 22, adding that most of the refugees were Syrians, Afghans and Pakistanis.
Some 24 people smugglers, mostly Serbian nationals, have also been arrested in the same period, according to border guards.
“They (refugees) are trying to cross over mountain passes, through thick forests, along river beds by using the smugglers,” said Krivokapic. “Criminal charges have been filed against most of the smugglers and they are in police custody.”
The official added that 454 refugees who had been held inside Serbia were transferred to refugee centers.
Serbia has recently strengthened the protection of its border with Bulgaria by deploying army and police forces to the areas used by human traffickers to illegally guide refugees into the country.
The country, located on southeast Europe’s Balkan Peninsula, serves as a transit route for refugees who seek to go further north to Hungary and continue their journey towards richer European Union nations.
More than one million people crossed the Balkan countries last year.
In March, the Balkans shut their borders to refugees. Since then, the number of those try the route have fallen from thousands per day to hundreds.
Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria.
Many blame major European powers for the exodus, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and war in the violence-wracked regions.
The EU signed a major deal with Turkey earlier this year in an attempt to stop the inflow of refugees, but the future of the accord remains in the dark amid growing tensions between the two sides.