North Macedonia: Migrants allegedly held to ransom, abused

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — North Macedonian authorities have filed criminal charges against three Pakistanis and a Macedonian man for allegedly imprisoning a group of migrants and holding them to ransom, officials said Monday.

The prosecutor’s office said the men were believed to have behaved in a “particularly degrading and cruel” manner to the 12 migrants, including two minors, from India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

They had been allegedly detained for two weeks in October in a house in the country's north, near the border with Serbia. The four suspects were arrested last year but the arrests were announced Monday.

According to the prosecution, the suspects “caused them to lose their sense of time, gave them food only once a day and physically abused them.” They allegedly demanded money from their prisoners' relatives in other European countries and threatened to kill the migrants when they asked to leave.

One migrant managed to contact relatives who reported the case to Serbian authorities, who in turn informed police in North Macedonia, the prosecutor’s office said.

The three Pakistanis were arrested and are in custody pending trial. If convicted, they face up to eight years in prison. The Macedonian national, who owns the house where the migrants were allegedly being held, has also been charged and is under house arrest.

North Macedonia is a key stage on the route many migrants take towards prosperous European countries after illegally entering neighboring Greece from Turkey. Those apprehended in North Macedonia are routinely sent back to Greece.

Also Monday, police in Cyprus said they safely escorted to the coastal town of Larnaca a boat with 87 Syrian migrants that had left from the Turkish port of Mersin and was spotted by radar off island nation's southeastern tip.

The 61 men, 10 women and 16 children have been taken to a reception center outside the capital Nicosia.