Italy arrests 10 suspected people smugglers

Italian authorities 10 individuals suspected to be human traffickers following the death by asphyxiation of 52 people

file photo.
file photo.

Ten suspected people smugglers were arrested by Italian authorities in connection with the deaths by asphyxiation of 52 people who had been forced to remain in the virtually airless hold of an overcrowded migrant boat.

The arrests follow statements made by survivors rescued from the same boat earlier this week and taken to Palermo in Sicily.

When it left Libya, the rickety wooden boat was carrying a total of nearly 500 people. The suspected traffickers were seven Moroccans, two Syrians and a Libyan, AFP reports.

"All the statements by the survivors confirm the same version of events," Palermo prosecutor Maurizio Scalia told a press conference. "The victims were all violently forced to stay below deck in an awful condition."

According to AP, murder charges, rather than manslaughter, were warranted since the smugglers "eventually accepted the risk that these people, in these conditions, could die." The specific accusation against them was "dolus eventualis" homicide — meaning they knew the outcome of their reckless actions and went ahead with them anyway.

In previous crossings, the smugglers would charge up to €4,000 apiece for places above deck, versus €1,000 below deck, and an additional fee if they wanted life jackets. However, that distinction wasn't used in this operation..

The crew leader "arbitrarily" directed the migrants above or below deck as they boarded, regardless of what they had paid.

According to the UN refugee agency, some 2,500 asylum seekers have died tried to reach Europe by sea since the start of 2015.

Some 110,000 have reached Italy and a further 200,000 have made it to Greece, triggering an EU-wide crisis as many of them have attempted to make their way north to Germany and other wealthier countries seen as more welcoming to asylum seekers.