Italian authorities arrested three Tunisian human traffickers who were operating an elaborate and expensive smuggling route to cross the Mediterranean, the Italian Il Giornale revealed on Thursday, August 17th.
The standard operating principle of most human traffickers in Tunisia and Libya involves packing cheap, old, and small boats (sometimes even rafts) with as many migrants as possible, then shipping them to locations just outside African waters. The smugglers then usually return to Africa in a separate boat, but not before taking the migrants’ engine to reuse in the next run, leaving the poor souls stranded and hoping for rescue. They know they don’t need to take them further—search and rescue NGOs are usually in the area to take the migrants into Europe.
That is the normal course for migrants, if they have only 2000 dinars (€600) to spare for the journey—the usual price of this highly dangerous method of crossing from Tunisia. But the Italian Coast Guard’s latest catch proved that there are much safer options available, for the right price.
The three human smugglers, who were detained last weekend on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration off the coast of Sicily, transported 31 migrants in their own, well-equipped fishing vessel until they reached Italian waters. Then, the trio offloaded their cargo onto two rafts they dragged along the ‘mothership’ the entire journey, and pinged the Coast Guard to let them know they, the ‘fishermen,’ ‘found’ migrants drifting at sea, expecting the authorities to take over and let the good fishermen go home in peace.
The arrests from last weekend were not the first time Italians encountered the practice.
Upon arriving at the scene, the Coast Guard confirmed their suspicion: the migrants were in much better physical shape than possible if they’d been on rafts for days. Photos and videos found on the migrants’ phones proved without a doubt that they spent the entire journey on the ship and were transferred onto the rafts just before the distress signal was sent out.
According to the Italian journal reporting on the incident, this travel option usually costs around 8,000 Tunisian dinars (€2,400) per person, and only the wealthiest migrants can afford it. This means the three gentlemen were looking to make €74,000 for this single trip (minus the rafts and the fuel) before their plans were cut short. Instead of returning and getting ready for another run, all three smugglers sit in a cell in Agrigento, Sicily, awaiting trial.