People smugglers 'earn up to €80,000' each

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Italian police have busted an international human trafficker network. Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP
12:21 CEST+02:00
Italian police have arrested 24 alleged people smugglers, who are said to be part of an international network that operates across Italy.

The arrests were made in Palermo early on Monday as more than 700 people were feared to have died in the latest migrant disaster in the Mediterranean, Corriere reported.

Police said the network operated out of Milan, Rome, Bari and Catania, in cooperation with others in Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Libya, as part of a sophisticated operation designed to transport migrants to northern Europe via Sicily.

Those involved were caught on wiretap bragging about earning “up to €80,000” each for a boat with 200 people crammed on board, Corriere reported. 

Prosecutors in Palermo believe the network had organized at least 15 convoys of migrants since May 2014, charging each individual between $1,500 and $2,000 for the journeys.

An extensive report on the investigation that led to Monday's arrests reveals how the traffickers would assemble their clients in holding centres in Libya before crowding as many of them as possible onto whatever boats they could lay their hands on.

The smugglers rarely attempted to reach Italy's southern islands, opting instead to steer the vessels into open seas before issuing distress calls and then abandoning their human cargo in speed boats, cynically counting on the Italian coastguard or merchant ships to come to the rescue and deliver the migrants to European soil.

The service provided by the traffickers did not stop there. In some cases they also undertook to help migrants get away from reception centres in Italy following their rescue at sea.

At least two out of every three migrants or asylum-seekers who arrive in Italy do so with the intention of heading further north, according to aid organizations.

The investigation also uncovered evidence that the traffickers make extensive use of money transfer services like Western Union and that they were supported by networks of contacts in Italy that operated much like a regular travel agent to organize onward journeys for migrants who made it there.

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The individuals arrested on Monday were described by the Italian media as foot soldiers of the smuggling operation.

The alleged ring leaders, identified as Eritrean Yehdego Mered and Ethiopian Ghermay Ermias, are still at large.

The two men are also wanted by Italian authorities in connection with an October 2013 disaster in which 366 migrants died after their overcrowded boat caught fire and capsized just off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

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