European arrests after migrant smuggling ring smashed

Berlin (AFP) - German police on Tuesday said investigators working together across Europe had dismantled a trafficking ring suspected of smuggling Syrian refugees into the EU, leading to 16 arrests.

Thirteen of the arrests were made in Italy, and one each in Belgium, France and Sweden, Germany's federal police said in a statement.

The network, which was based in the northern Italian city of Como, had a fleet of cars at its disposal which it used to transfer at least 1,115 migrants from Budapest to Austria, Germany and other countries, police said.

The majority of the migrants were Syrian refugees.

The alleged smuggling activities along the so-called Balkan migrant route took place between June 2015 and April 2016, according to the statement.

It added the inquiry was initially launched by police in Munich on the request of prosecutors in the southern town of Traunstein, before being passed on to European colleagues.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia streamed through Hungary and Austria last year in search of a better future in western Europe, with Germany a preferred destination.

The influx has dramatically slowed since then, following a series of border restrictions along the Balkan route and a deal struck between EU and the Turkey.

Large numbers of migrants continue to arrive on European shores via the Mediterranean Sea, risking their lives in perilous boat crossings.