The 52-year-old was driving his Fiat Ducato towards Germany when he was stopped by police near Lake Balaton, near Budapest, La Repubblica reported.
The Hungarian authorities found the refugees, including women and children, packed into the back of the van and arrested the man on suspicion of human trafficking.
“Thirty-three in the back of a Fiat Ducato is pretty cramped,” Italian criminologist Andrea Di Nicola told the Local.
“But for an operation like this the smuggler could earn up to €1,000 for each refugee.”
During questioning, the man reportedly claimed to have merely been “offering a lift” to the refugees.
Cases of Italians being involved in smuggling people across borders date back to the early 1990s. But with the ever-growing number of migrants arriving on European shores, people smuggling is becoming a lucrative earner for ordinary Italians and other Europeans, Di Nicola added.
“Ordinary Italians, and other EU citizens who get involved with people smuggling are often the smallest links in a massive chain run by organized criminal gangs,” he said.
Italy's ambassador to Hungary is looking into the incident.