The so-called Balkan route ends at Breitenau on the German-Czech border. Illegal entry has recently increased significantly – the place is considered a hotspot. Refugees are dropped off here every day.
The flight to Europe ends for four young people at the Am Heideholz rest area on the A17 motorway. Shortly after the German-Czech border in the direction of Dresden, a Federal Police patrol discovered the BMW with French license plates. Now the car is directed to the rest area. A check of the papers raises suspicions among the officials.
The occupants have Turkish passports and residence permits for Denmark, the driver does not have a driver’s license. The document for Denmark is fake. Later, one of the travelers states that he bought it in Serbia. The car was also assigned to them by a smuggler there.
“Smuggling is a very dirty business”
It is not the classic case of smuggling that the officers at the Berggiesshübel Federal Police Inspectorate have to deal with that day. Smugglers normally drop off their “customers” not far from the autobahn and then flee themselves – back to the Czech Republic. The young Turks – two women and two men – came on their own. Now they are making a request for protection.
“Smuggling is a very dirty business. It’s not about people. It’s all about making money. As much as possible and as quickly as possible. The smugglers are not interested in the conditions on the loading area,” says Steffen Ehrlich, spokesman the federal police station in Berggiesshübel. But it is also a very lucrative business. Refugees would have to pay high three-digit or even four-digit amounts per person for the last leg to Germany. Sometimes an escape from the country of origin to the destination even costs 10,000 euros and more.
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According to Ehrlich, drivers are paid depending on the number of refugees. Therefore, there is great interest in transporting as many as possible in one go. “Just last week we found ten people in a car.” The smugglers work in a very structured way and are often networked across Europe. They would use videos to advertise their services on social media and offer “trips” to Germany – like “criminal travel agencies”.
Although Ehrlich, as spokesman for the federal police, has to send out press releases about smuggling almost every day these days, the events are still affecting him. Sometimes you take a case home with you and talk about it with your family. “Anyone who opens the door of a transporter sees the faces of many refugees in a very small space. Then you think: That’s completely crazy. Many are exhausted and seem apathetic. While driving, they tear the rubber seals out of the doors to let in more air receive.”
“Smugglers increasingly unscrupulous, smuggling more dangerous”
Police superintendent Jana Kletzsch, who is on patrol that day with her colleague Klaus Hohmann, says: “My gut feeling is that there are more refugees than in 2015. And the circumstances are different too. The smugglers are becoming more and more unscrupulous, the smuggling more dangerous.” At that time, the smugglers would usually have surrendered if they were caught red-handed. Now they fled at high speed and endangered the lives of the inmates. Only in July did a woman die after an accident in a smuggler’s vehicle.
For Jana Kletzsch, the worst moment is when she opens the vehicle doors after being chased. Sometimes 20 people were cooped up. “They stand there for hours in their vapors, they don’t have oxygen, they can’t go to the toilet. Defecation has to be done in bottles. You’re glad when everyone’s still alive.” This is irresponsible, especially given the current temperatures.
A fight against windmills?
Kletzsch admits that the work is sometimes frustrating as the influx keeps growing. Her colleagues could only arrest a fraction of the smugglers. But then there are also the many small signs of gratitude – for example when the migrants, who are completely dehydrated after a long journey, receive a cup of water. “There’s a lot of overtime at the moment. We’re working to the limit,” says Ehrlich. Colleagues from other federal states are currently providing support at the Breitenau hotspot.
Chief Inspector Kletzsch knows that her job is like fighting windmills. Because the smugglers have many tricks up their sleeves and adapt their tactics to the circumstances. As a rule, reconnaissance officers sounded the terrain as a vanguard. Sometimes a smuggling is staged as a distraction in order to get subsequent transports across the border without problems.
“The scout driver drives ahead. When the first lock is through, the smugglers know we have our hands full. Then the next transporter comes after half an hour,” reports Jana Kletzsch. Even if the colleagues had to secure accident sites, smuggler vehicles followed in a targeted manner. Most of the refugees who are currently being picked up in the vicinity of Autobahn 17 come from Syria, and many also from Turkey. Unlike in the past, the smugglers today often come from Ukraine, Turkey and Syria. There are currently around 60 people smugglers in custody who were placed in custody by officials from the Berggiesshübel Federal Police Inspectorate.
Smuggling ring structures complicate investigations
The fact that traffickers are arrested is not least due to federal police officers like Doreen Hauswald. When she goes to work, she often feels like she’s in the film Groundhog Day. “You develop a rooting instinct and are happy when you can solve a case,” says the chief of police, who then testifies as a witness in later criminal proceedings against people smugglers. Of course, the smugglers in the vehicle are just the tip of the iceberg. “It’s like a hydra. If you cut off its head, two new ones grow back.” The smuggler rings are organized according to the snowball system, the drivers are just a small cog in the machine.
The federal police headquarters in Pirna found 13,479 unauthorized entries in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia from January to the end of July. In the same period of the previous year there were 5775, in the whole year 20,550. “International and national reports show that people smugglers are becoming increasingly unscrupulous in order to evade prosecution in the event of a police check.”
In Saxony, the call for temporary border controls – such as on the border between Austria and Bavaria – is currently growing. In Breitenau, too, “lights were turned on” over two days at key times, as Ehrlich puts it. All crossings in the area of the Federal Police Inspection were manned, the vehicles had to cross the border at walking pace. But the smugglers quickly found another way, which colleagues from neighboring inspections in Ebersbach and Chemnitz quickly sensed.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.