Serbian border patrol arrests three for smuggling 64 Afghans

August 30, 2016 8:19 AM EDT

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BELGRADE (Reuters) - The Serbian authorities have detained three men on suspicion of the attempted smuggling of 64 Afghan migrants, including women and infants, in the south east of the country near the border with Bulgaria, the Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.

So far this year Serbia has arrested 360 suspects accused of smuggling 2,000 migrants and refugees, part of a mass influx of people heading to Western Europe from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.

In July, Serbia deployed joint military and police patrols to its border as the flow of migrants did not stop, even after other Balkan countries closed their borders in March.

Three men from the capital Belgrade were arrested near the southeastern town of Zajecar, some 10 kilometers (six miles) west of the Bulgarian border, as they boarded migrants onto a van and cars, the defense ministry said in a statement.

In the van there were 34 Afghans, including four women, one of them pregnant, an infant and a child, while another two cars were about pick up another 30 people, including three children, the ministry said.

There are some 4,000 asylum seekers in Serbia at present, mainly from the Middle East and Asia, though most do not want to stay there, aiming instead for Germany or Sweden.

Since the beginning of 2016 more than 103,000 migrants have passed through Serbia, which wants to join the European Union, mainly through neighboring Hungary.

Last week Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country plans to build a second fence on its border with Serbia to keep out any major new wave of migrants.

Hungary also offered Serbia to send its police officers to Serbia's borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by)

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