22nd Mar 2018

Migrant smugglers using new route to Europe

  • Smugglers are finding new routes into Europe (Photo: Frontex)

The EU’s border agency, Frontex, says smugglers are using a new route to get migrants into Europe by loading them onto cargo ships from Turkey to Italy.

“There is definitely a new route opening up,” a spokesperson at the Warsaw-based agency told this website on Monday (5 January).

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Around 17 cargo vessels have been intercepted on the route since July.

Frontex says the large cargo ships, measuring around 100 metres in length, are often purchased from scrapyards and then set sail from Mersin port in Turkey.

People are paying up to €6,000 to get onboard, around triple the price of those leaving in smaller and more dangerous boats from Libya.

The latest incident occurred last week when the Frontex-led border surveillance operation, Triton, along with the Italian coastguard, intercepted the Ezadeen and Blue Sky M cargo ships.

Some 796 migrants were found on the Blue Sky M. Another 359 migrants, including 60 children, were found on the Ezadeen. Italian authorities believe smugglers made up to €3 million from the Ezadeen deal.

Both ships had been cruising at full speed towards Italy.

The Blue Sky M, flying a Moldovan flag, was first spotted last Tuesday. The Sierra-Leone flagged Ezadeen was spotted three days later.

Reports suggest the crews either abandoned the ships or mingled in with the crowds to avoid detection by boarding authorities.

“These events underscore the need for decisive and coordinated EU-wide action,” said EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Avramopoulos said he has made the fight against smuggling a top priority in the commission’s forthcoming migration plans.

“We see a new type of activity, which is particularly worrying, we have to act and we have to act swiftly,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels.

Schinas said plans to tackle the migrant smuggling would entail "more means, more instruments, more money".

Around 16,000 people have been rescued in the Mediterranean and 76 traffickers arrested since Triton’s launch last November.

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