A one-time trend or a new trend? Smugglers use luxury boats to bring migrants to Europe

Smugglers trying to bring refugees across the Mediterranean now use luxury dhows to infiltrate former authorities on the lesser known Calabria route.

But while the idea of ​​arriving in such a vessel may sound luxurious – compared to the often unseaworthy boats bound for Europe that smugglers launched from Libya and Tunisia – the reality is quite different.

Both witnesses and authorities claim that a number of expensive vessels are being used to bring in up to a hundred people per boat that is stored below deck, with limited access to food and water for at least a week.

“It was the worst experience of my life,” Hamid told the Associated Press after the dhow that took him to Italy with his wife Zakia ashore on November 10.

Zakia was six months pregnant and in her first year of university while her husband Hamid was working as an auditor in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Then the Taliban retook the country in August, and the two decided to flee, fleeing the Afghan capital with Hamid’s sister, her husband, and their three children.

For the family, this was the start of a two-month journey that first took them through Iran and Turkey, where they boarded the luxury boat Passion Delaware, paying a whopping €8,500 per adult and €4,000 per child to get to Calabria.

Zakia feared that she had lost her baby on the dhow after two days of no fresh water, but once she arrived in Italy, the baby was considered healthy after Italian doctors provided her with the necessary medical care.

Ukrainian smugglers, Turkish gangs and the Ndarengeta

Entire families pay the highest price for a trip from Turkey on new or almost new sailing boats which can easily avoid detection by the authorities.

Investigators say they have been caught by smugglers, mostly Ukrainians, who may have been collaborating with Turkish gangsters and Italian ‘Ndrangheta clans on the country’s shores.

Italian police have arrested several Ukrainian smugglers who have been convicted of aiding and abetting illegal immigration, but they are just small cogs in the wheel of a larger criminal operation.

The Calabria route, which takes migrants from Turkey to “the finger” of Italy in Boots instead of Sicily and its islands in the south, saw a nearly fourfold increase in arrivals in 2021 and now accounts for 16 percent of total arrivals. Arrivals by sea in Italy this year.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is monitoring the situation closely, although the increase in arrivals in Calabria is mirrored by a similarly sharp increase in migrants arriving at Sicilian ports.

Overall, the number of arrivals by sea in Italy this year reached 59,000, compared to 32,000 at this point last year.

The Calabria route saw 9,687 arrivals as of November 14, compared to 2,507 in 2020.

This is still a far cry from the numbers seen during the height of the refugee crisis when nearly 130,000 people came to Italy by sea in 2016, with more than a million crossing the Mediterranean in 2015, according to data from the organization. International Migration.

Chiara Cardoletti, UNHCR’s representative in the country, says most families are looking for safety on the old continent via Italy this time.

“Right now, what you see on all the roads is an increase in the number of families arriving with a lot of children. This is also true on the road to Calabria,” she said.

The Calabria route is just one of the myriad ways potential refugees from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa are trying to reach Europe, an ongoing crisis that has fueled anti-immigrant sentiment on the continent and strained EU solidarity.

Toba, Hamid’s sister, said the family decided to risk their life for the trip because life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule was no longer safe, especially given her work as a lawyer.

“I can’t live in Kabul, and because of them I have to leave Afghanistan,” said Tuba, who asked that her last name not be used out of fears for her safety and that of her family.

Now safely in Italy, the family must undergo mandatory COVID-19 isolation for two weeks before they can apply for asylum there.

Hamid said the smugglers provided enough water for the first four or five days, but after the water ran out, the passengers drank sea water with sugar for the last two days.

As the sailboats approached shore, passengers boarded the ship only to see the two smugglers who were the ship’s captain, both wearing ski masks, fleeing the scene in a black boat.

“Smugglers, who obviously have no concept of human involvement, are now crushing 100 people per schooner,” said Vittorio Zito, mayor of Roccella Junica, a small town on the Calabrian coast that has been a major destination for smugglers.

false american flag

The sailboats are difficult to intercept because they look like ordinary pleasure boats even on air patrols.

Some sailboats have also been stolen and sailed under different flags than those of the country of origin, making them more difficult to pick out.

The “emotional Dallaware” was raising the American flag from its sail.

Zito said smugglers can make around 500,000 euros per trip.

Red Cross officials counted 101 people on the boat that took Zakiya and Hamid to Italy. Sailboats like the Passion Dalaware hold up to 20 times less.

The sailors are expected to have a total of €858,500 in their pocket.

Once the sailboats reach Calabria, they are usually deserted on shore. While some are left to rot along the Calabrian coast, not well established, others are piling up in a boat cemetery near the port in Roquila Jonica.

“We have to bypass individual boats and arrests of smugglers to understand the reason behind the massive increase,” said Giovanni Bombardieri, the public prosecutor of Reggio Calabria.

Bombardieri, who is leading the immigration investigation, stated: “It is clear that our work requires an assessment of the possible involvement of the ‘Ndrangheta clans, the Calabrian-based organized crime syndicate.

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