EU vows to take action against migrant smugglers

Amid Frontex's warning of new migrant smuggling strategies, EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos calls on new EU-wide action against human traffickers. 

Just days after more than 1,300 migrants were saved by Italian authorities from two derelict vessels abandoned by smugglers in rough seas, EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos has said that the EU is planning a new no-holds-barred migration plan intent on fighting human trafficking.

“These events underscore the need for decisive and coordinated EU-wide action. Smugglers are finding new routes to Europe and are employing new methods in order to exploit desperate people who are trying to escape conflict and war.”

“We need to take action against these ruthless, criminal organisations,” Avramopoulos said. 

On Friday, a ship carrying 450 asylum-seekers – mostly Syrians - was rescued by Italian authorities after it was abandoned by its crew in rough seas, forcing the Italian authorities to prevent a humanitarian disaster.  The Sierra Leone-flagged Ezadeen had been drifting without power 40 power nautical miles off the coast after it had been put on a collision course in what was described as a new strategy by human traffickers.

“We must not allow smugglers to put at risk people’s lives in old, abandoned ships in dangerous weather. Needless to say, the fight against smuggling will be a top priority in the ‘comprehensive approach to migration’, a plan to be presented in due course. We will move forward with commitment and resolve,” the EU commissioner for migration underlined.

The rescue mission was the second in a week after another vessel carrying over 900 migrants, the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M, was rescued by Italian authorities after it had been abandoned by its crew off Corfu and put on a collision course with Italy’s course on Wednesday.

Four men, believed to be the skipper and the crew of the Moldovan-flagged vessel, after they were caught trying to mingle with the migrants in an attempt to deceive Italian authorities.

And in what was surely a warning to Malta and other Mediterranean states, EU agency Frontex said that the use of old freighters and cargo vessels to transport large number of migrants to Europe has become smugglers’ hallmark.

“These are typically decommissioned freighters, up to 75 meters long, procured in the ports of south-eastern Turkey, notably Mersin: a departure point still connected by ferry to the Syrian port of Latakia, making it reachable for the tens of thousands of Syrians still fleeing the conflict in their country.”

Traveling from Turkey would in turn enable smugglers to circumvent the considerable danger of boarding a ship from Libya.

Frontex also warned that smugglers have learned to time the departure of migrant boats so that they cross the paths of merchant ships heading for Europe. When the migrants issue a distress call, the nearby merchant ships would be obliged by international maritime law to rescue them and disembark them at the nearest port of call.

Frontex also warned that asylum-seekers are also willing to pay exorbitant prices to book a place on one of the vessels, with Syrian migrants claiming that they paid up to €6,500 each for a place on the decrepit vessels.

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