Pro-refugee rescue boats operating off the Italian coast are only exacerbating Europe’s migration crisis and are being used by people smugglers to guarantee success, a report by the Italian intelligence services has claimed.
In its annual report to the Italian parliament on Tuesday, Italy’s intelligence services warned the Ionian Sea may well become the new route of choice for people smugglers, indicating an increase in the number of boats leaving Turkey’s east coast destined for Italy.
“There is an increase in migratory flows from the eastern Mediterranean, leaving mainly from Turkey towards the coasts of Calabria, Puglia and Sicily by mainly Kurdish and Pakistani migrants, marking a rise in trafficking as well as the use, which has become practice, of the web and social networks by the same groups to advertise their trips and related services,” the report said.
Italian intelligence told lawmakers how the presence of NGO ships operating off Italy’s coast is “often publicized on social networks by facilitators of irregular migration as a guarantee of a safer journey to Europe.” They accused NGOs of providing “a logistical advantage for the criminal organizations that manage migrant trafficking, allowing them to adapt their modus operandi according to the possibility of reducing the quality of the vessels used, correspondingly increasing illicit profits, and exposing the people on board to a more concrete risk of shipwreck.”
At least 64 people have been confirmed dead following the shipwreck of an overcrowded wooden boat being used to smuggle migrants into Europe. The boat was found off Italy’s Calabrian coast on Sunday. It had set sail from the Turkish city of Izmir and was heading for Crotone on Italy’s east coast.
The perilous journey saw the boat navigate its way through the Aegean Sea and around Greece before attempting to cross the Ionian Sea to reach Italy.
The 80 survivors told Italian authorities the boat had been carrying approximately 170 people, suggesting the death toll could increase further. Others claim the number on board could have been closer to 250.
Many of the passengers originated from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Iraq, according to aid groups attending the scene.
Italian authorities have revealed the people smugglers responsible for organizing a trip from Turkey to Italy resulting in the deaths of dozens of migrants on Sunday charged each migrant €8,000 for what they described as the “voyage of death.”
NGO groups were quick to criticize the Italian government for the deaths, referencing recent government decrees that aimed to frustrate humanitarian vessels led by pro-refugee charities attempting to pick up migrants and escort them to Italy.
The Italian government hit back at accusations, highlighting the fact that NGO vessels were rarely operating in the area where the incident had occurred, as they usually concentrated their search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean to Italy’s southwest rather than the Ionian Sea, which is far less used by people smugglers.
On Tuesday, Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi refuted claims made by aid groups that the Italian authorities were slow to react to reports of distress in the area.
He explained how Italy had sent out two patrol vessels after authorities had been alerted to the boat off the coast of Crotone late on Saturday evening, but these had been required to suspend their efforts due to adverse weather conditions.
“There was no delay,” Piantedosi said. “Everything possible was done in absolutely prohibitive sea conditions.”
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has requested action by the European Union to respond to the migration crisis her country is experiencing, telling European leaders in a letter sent on Monday that more must be done to stop migrants from embarking on perilous sea crossings.
“The point is, the more people who set off, the more people risk dying,” she told RAI state television on Monday.