Sailboats full of migrants seek Italy in latest tactic


Sailboats used by smugglers to transport migrants and refugees washed up on Le Cannelle beach in Isola Capo Rizzuto, in the region of Calabria, in southern Italy, on Saturday, November 13, 2021. Thousands of refugees arrived in Italy this fall via a lesser-known migrant route. , the Calabrian route from Turkey, paying higher smuggling fees to travel on pleasure sailboats which may be less visible than the crowded inflatable boats used in the central Mediterranean. (AP Photo / Alessandra Tarantino)


When the Taliban took Kabul in August, Zakia was six months pregnant and in her first year of college while her husband, Hamid, worked as an auditor. They decided to flee and, along with five relatives, began a two-month odyssey that took them through Iran and Turkey.

When it was time to cross the Mediterranean, they did so on an expensive sailboat that landed this month on a beach in southern Italy’s Calabria.

They were dehydrated, but relieved to have survived a lesser-known migratory route to Europe that is increasingly used by the wealthiest Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians and Kurds. Whole families pay a high price for the passage from Turkey aboard new or nearly new sailboats which can more easily avoid detection by the authorities. Investigators say they are led by smugglers, often Ukrainians, who may be in cahoots with Turkish mobsters and Italian ‘ndrangheta clans ashore.

While aid workers call these passages “first class,” they are not elite. Hamid and Zakia were packed with 100 people under bridge for a week as food supplies dwindled. After two days without fresh water, Zakia no longer felt the baby moving inside her.

“It was the worst experience of my life,” Hamid said at an Italian gym as he and his wife waited to be treated for COVID-19 quarantine locations after their sailboat, “Passion Dalaware” arrived at land on November 10.

For years, political, humanitarian and media attention has focused on the hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly Africans, who cross the central Mediterranean aboard dilapidated ships launched by smugglers from Libya and Libya. Tunisia.

The Calabrian route, which takes migrants from Turkey to the boot-shaped “end” of Italy rather than to Sicily and its islands further south, saw its arrivals almost quadruple in 2021 and now accounts for 16% of the population. sea ​​arrivals in Italy this year.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is monitoring the situation closely, although the increase in Calabrian arrivals is reflected in an equally large increase in migrants arriving at Sicilian ports. Overall, arrivals by sea to Italy this year stand at 59,000, up from 32,000 at this point last year. The Calabrian route recorded 9,687 arrivals as of November 14, compared to 2,507 last year.

“We see Afghans. We see Iraqis. We see Iranians, Kurds, ”said Chiara Cardoletti, UNHCR representative in Italy. While single men made up most of the migrants, “right now, on all roads, you are seeing an increase in the number of families arriving with a lot of children. And this also applies to the road to Calabria.

The Calabrian route is just one of the myriad ways that potential refugees from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa are trying to reach Europe, a constant crisis that has fueled anti -immigrants on the continent and put a strain on the solidarity of the European Union.

Hamid and Zakia had a difficult odyssey that cost far more than most: after escaping Kabul with Hamid’s sister, her husband and their three children, the family arrived in Turkey and paid 8,500 euros. ($ 9,600) for each adult and 4,000 euros ($ 4,500) for each child to travel to Calabria. Hamid’s parents in Sweden helped finance the trip.

Hamid’s sister Tooba, 29, who speaks good English, said the family decided to risk their lives during the trip because life in Afghanistan under the Taliban was no longer safe, especially given of her work as a lawyer.

“I cannot live in Kabul, and because of them I have to leave Afghanistan,” Tooba said, as she cradled a sleeping child.

Like Hamid and Zakia, she asked that her last name not be used for security reasons.

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

As the sailboat approached shore, passengers climbed onto the deck to see the two smugglers who had commanded the ship, both wearing ski masks, fleeing the scene in a black boat.

“The traffickers, who obviously have no notion of human scruples, are now even crushing 100 people in each sailboat,” said Vittorio Zito, the mayor of Roccella Jonica, a small town on the Calabrian coast that has been a prime destination for smugglers.

Sailboats are difficult to intercept because even for air patrols they look like normal pleasure craft. The “Passion Dalaware” even featured a plastic American flag on its sail.

Zito said smugglers can earn around 500,000 euros ($ 565,000) per trip on a stolen sailboat that costs around 100,000 euros ($ 113,000). Red Cross officials counted 101 people on Hamid’s boat, whose smugglers pocketed 858,500 euros ($ 969,000).

There have been so many of these recently deserted sailboats that their carcasses line the Calabrian coast. Others are crammed into a boat cemetery near the port of Roccella Jonica.

The route is also used by smugglers who bring fishing boats from Libya. On November 14, 550 migrants arrived in Roccella Jonica, the highest number in a day. The migrants, including at least 100 Egyptian miners, were rescued from two offshore fishing boats that had left from Tobruk, a town in Libya near the Egyptian border.

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

“We have to go beyond individual boats and arrests of smugglers to understand the reason for the exponential increase,” said Giovanni Bombardieri, chief prosecutor of the Calabrian capital of Reggio Calabria, who is leading the investigation into the migrations.

“It is clear that our work requires an assessment of the possible involvement of the clans of the ‘ndrangheta”, the organized crime syndicate based in Calabria, he told the AP.

Hamid and Zakia’s odyssey is not over. The extended family has been placed in different locations in Calabria to complete two weeks of viral quarantine. After that, they can start the asylum process or can try to reach relatives in Sweden.

There is also good news.

“I am very happy,” Zakia said. “The Italian doctors have checked and my baby is fine.”

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