Migrant smugglers have a new route from Turkey straight to Calabria

Sailboats used by smugglers to transport migrants and refugees are piled up in the port of Roccella Jonica, Calabria region, Southern Italy, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
By Lucie Ctverakova
3 Min Read

Migrants usually go to the European Union via the Mediterranean Sea through the shortest possible route, but now a new route is opening to Calabria, Italy, which only a select few can afford.

According to the AP, richer Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, and Kurds are increasingly using this route. For a trip from Turkey on new or almost new sailboats, which are easier to avoid detection by the authorities, they have to pay smugglers far more than on other routes. A ticket for an adult costs up to $10,000 (€8,881) and an average of $4,500 (€3,997) for children.

“Smugglers, who clearly have no restraints, cram a hundred people on every sailboat,” said Vittorio Zito, mayor of the small town of Roccella Jonica, which lies on the Calabrian coast and is one of the main targets of smugglers.

According to the AP, smugglers’ sailboats are difficult to catch because they look like ordinary cruise ships.

The “Calabrian route” rose in popularity almost fourfold in 2021. Up to 16 percent of all migrants who arrived by sea this year to Italy used this route. However, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the increase in migrant numbers in Calabria is similar to the growth in numbers of migrants in Sicilian ports.

In total, the number of migrants who arrived in Italy by sea this year increased to 59,000. Last year, it was around 32,000.

“Whereas in the past most migrants were single men, now we see more families with children on all routes. This also applies to the route to Calabria,” said Chiara Cardoletti, a representative of the UNHCR in Italy.

Italian police have arrested several Ukrainian smugglers, but according to the AP agency, there is a much larger criminal operation behind them. Giovanni Bombardieri, the chief prosecutor in the Calabrian capital Reggio Calabria, said that “to understand the cause of the exponential increase, we must go beyond arresting individual smugglers.”

According to Bombardieri, the smugglers share their profits with the Turkish mobsters and the Italian mobster organization Ndrangheta.

For many years, according to the AP, most political, humanitarian, and media attention has focused on migrants, mostly Africans, who cross the central Mediterranean from Libya and Tunisia. Their ships are often unfit to sail such a distance. Their goal is to reach some of the southernmost parts of the European Union — for example, the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Sicily or Malta.

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