Lithuania's authorities have this year launched 59 pre-trial investigations into human smuggling across the border and have detained 86 human smugglers, the State Border Guard Service (VSAT) said on Wednesday.
"Compared to last year, the number of apprehended smugglers has increased by about seven times, while the number of smuggled persons has increased by more than 10 times," the service said in a press release.
"The increase is due to this year's wave of illegal migration from Belarus," it added.
The detained smugglers included twelve Ukrainian nationals, ten Iraqis, nine Georgians, seven Poles, six Syrians, and five Germans.
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As many as 226 of the 309 smuggled people were Iraqi nationals. There were also 15 Afghans, 11 nationals of Turkey and Syria each, eight Russians, and seven Iranians.
The VSAT singled out several routes for smuggling people into the EU.
Some irregular migrants are smuggled out of Latvia via Lithuania. Others cross the Lithuanian-Belarusian border irregularly and are picked up by smugglers who try to take them to western Europe, according to the press release.
"The smugglers apprehended by Lithuanian border guards fall into several groups," the VSAT said. The first group is "foreign nationals who hold residence permits in other EU countries and are relatives of smuggled people or members of the same ethnic community".
The second group is "individuals providing transport services, usually Ukrainian or Georgian citizens" and the third group is "smugglers belonging to organised criminal groups operating in other EU countries, such as Poland or Germany",
This year, Lithuania's authorities have started recording cases of migrants being smuggled by people previously involved in other illegal activities, such as cigarette smuggling, according to the press release.
Smuggling people across the state border is punishable by a fine, arrest or imprisonment for up to six years, the VSAT noted.