Italian, Albanian and Greek police in a joint operation on Wednesday arrested people accused of profiteering several hundred million euros to smuggle refugees and migrants into European countries from Turkey on yachts and other leisure vessels, The Associated Press reported.
Eleven people were arrested in Italy, including smugglers who navigated the vessels, some of which had been stolen, as well as Iraqi and Syrian citizens who carried out the logistics, while another 18 were arrested in Albania and one in Greece, the AP said, citing the Italian police and EU law enforcement agency Europol.
The two suspects arrested by the Italian police are accused of running a ring that helped bring Syrians from Turkey to the EU using a network of associates in various countries.
The coordinated action is believed to have dealt a serious blow to the lucrative Turkey-Europe sailboat crossings, for which people pay between $6,000 to $10,000 to reach southern Italy, with an eye on northern European destinations.
The arrested suspects are believed to be part of a wider ring with as many as 80 members that organized at least 30 smuggling operations that transported at least 1,100 people by boat from Turkey to the coast of Puglia, and then on to other European countries, according to Europol.
“We hope to have curbed the phenomenon, for the next few weeks or the next few months,″ said Lt. Col. Giuseppe Giulio Leo, head of Italy’s financial police in the southern city of Lecce. The masterminds of the operations are believed to be in Turkey, he said.
Authorities estimate the illegal profits from the people smuggling at several hundred million euros.
The price paid varied by departure point, with more than half leaving from Turkey, and the destination, and often payments were made only when the trip was successfully completed, Leo said.