Increased risk of getting caught has made people smugglers search for safer routes for transporting people from Russia to the West than by illegally crossing the Estonian border in the country's southeast, reported Estonian daily Postimees.
While 64 and 63 illegal border crossing were detected in Southeastern Estonia in 2014 and 2015, respectively, Estonian border guards have detected only 30 such crossings during the first eight months of this year.
Rain Vosman, head of the service for solving serious and organized crimes at the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) South Prefecture, said a distinction must be made between people trying to get to the West on their own and people brought into Estonia by human smugglers.
"Since the end of 2014, we have detained six groups of human smugglers in Southern Estonia," Vosman told Postimees. "It has been established later that these groups have been active on at least 15 occasions and that the number of victims may be around 200."
The most recent serious case of human smuggling was uncovered on April 12, when Estonian border guards caught 11 Vietnamese nationals and nine people smugglers in Põlva County, not far from the Estonian-Russian border. On June 13, a lone Vietnamese national also attempted to cross the Estonian border as passenger in a car driven by an Estonian national. The Vietnamese national was sent back to Russia and the case is not being treated as one of human smuggling.
Although construction of the Estonian-Russian border in Southeastern Estonia will only begin early next year, more than 90 percent of the border line has been cleared of trees and vegetation by now, which already makes the illegal crossing of the border significantly more difficult, as illegal movement can be recorded by portable cameras installed on the border strip.
Helen-Neider Veerme, director of the Office for Integrated Administration of the Border at the PPA, said that colleagues from the counterpart border authorities of southern neighbors Latvia and Lithuania have noted that pressure on their borders has increased significantly. Latvian and Lithuanian journalists contacted by Postimees said, however, that the number of illegal crossings detected there is on the decline as well.
Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla