Human smugglers arrested after migrant boat arrives

Italian police arrest five alleged human smugglers after more than 3,500 migrants arrived on Italian shores over the past few days

File photo of Italian navy effecting migrant rescue at sea
File photo of Italian navy effecting migrant rescue at sea

Italian police said Monday they arrested five alleged human smugglers caught as part of the wave of more than 3,500 migrants who arrived on Italian shores over the past few days, ANSA agency reports.

The captain of one of the migrant ships, carrying about 205 migrants, asked for leniency in exchange for his confession of piloting the boat that was tracked by a patrol ship from Malta before it arrived in Sicily Sunday.

It was part of a series of arrivals of migrants from Syria and North Africa in about 11 different boats found in Italian waters since Friday.

The Italian Air Force was called in to relay many of the migrants from the Sicilian city of Catania to centres in Rome and Verona, to relieve some of the burden on arrival centres in Sicily.

The arrivals included some 838 migrants rescued from the sea on Saturday while another vessel carrying 275 people landed on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.

Another 720 from Libya were ferried into Pozzallo after they were rescued by Italian authorities working through the Mare Nostrum (our sea) program, and 147 people arrived in Catania.

Some migrants said they paid first for the journey from Eritrea to Libya, and again for the voyage from Libya to Italy, which for many migrants is a stepping stone into the rest of Europe.

Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said last week that almost 40,000 migrants have arrived already this year, almost as many as the total 43,000 arrivals reported for all of 2013.

“Caution is necessary over estimates on 2014 arrivals but migrant pressure is very high and the trend is growing,” Alfano said.

Most of that pressure lands on Italian shoulders as the country’s southernmost shores, especially the islands of Lampedusa and Sicily, are the first points of arrival for migrants arriving from the Middle East and North Africa crowded on to flimsy boats and rafts.

Most migrants “are asking for protection and it is therefore mandatory to welcome them though this obligation concerns Europe and not a single country”.

Alfano called for increased resources for the European Union’s border management agency Frontex, which helps to patrol the southern borders, and said it should move its headquarters to Italy.

This will be a theme for Italy when it assumes the six-month duty presidency of the EU in July.

He also urged the international community to do more to help would-be migrants remain in their homelands.

Since the deaths of some 400 migrants in October in Italian waters in two separate sea disasters, Italy has established a search-and-rescue program called Mare Nostrum (our sea) to try to avoid such deaths in future.

But critics say the program only encourages human smugglers, who know their passengers will be quickly rescued from the seas.

The rise in migrants has swamped the Italian government’s system for welcoming and housing newcomers along its southern shores, but Alfano said a national plan is being put in place “to distribute immigrants shared by regions, provinces and municipalities”.

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