‘Stolen’ Yachts Being Used to Smuggle Wealthy Migrants Into Italy

LAMPEDUSA, ITALY - AUGUST 04: The Councillor for Health of the Sicilian Region, Ruggero Razza, watches from the fire brigade helicopter the quarantine ship "Gnv Azzurra", moored in front of the island of Lampedusa, which will host almost all the migrants guests of the island's hotspot on August 04, 2020 …
Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images

Stolen yachts, including some with U.S. registrations, are being used by people-smugglers to sneak migrants into Italy.

Pleasure yachts, presumed stolen by police, are being used by traffickers to shuttle migrants from Turkey into Europe through Calabria, a province located at the tip of south-west Italy.

The news comes as Italy, the United Kingdom, Poland, and a host of other European countries struggle to deal with a variety of migrant crises taking place across the continent.

According to a report by The Telegraph, the yachts, some registered as far away as Delaware, are used to bring mainly affluent middle-class migrants originally from the likes of Syria and Iraq to Europe.

The voyage often takes around five days, with the yachts often landing in small port towns that have struggled to deal with the recent influx of migrants, such as Roccella Ionica.

The yachts have proven to be effective vessels for people-smuggling. As the migrants are kept below deck, the yachts look almost indistinguishable from other pleasure craft when viewed from an aircraft, and so are able to escape the notice of authorities.

Some of the yachts are even outfitted with jetskis, allowing smugglers to make a quick getaway before the boat even runs ashore.

Despite the various measures put in place by the traffickers, Italian police claim that large numbers of them are caught, with over 35 being arrested in parts of Calabria over the past five months alone.

Police estimate that criminals are making hundreds of thousands of euros on the Calabria yacht route, with migrants paying traffickers up to €8,000 per spot on the voyages. This steep price tag is unsurprising, considering the astronomical margins charged by people-smugglers who transport migrants across the English Channel in mere rubber dinghies.

The trip is not always smooth sailing, however. The Greek coastguard recently had to rescue 17 migrants from a damaged ship after they were abandoned by their smugglers en route to Italy, for example.

The yacht route is not the only origin point of migrants arriving in Calabria. Overladen fishing vessels from North Africa, often carrying migrants from the likes of Egypt and Palestine, also deposit their passengers in the region.

The Telegraph reports witnessing two Italian coast guard ships bring ashore 240 migrants in total, all of whom were rescued from “a leaky fishing boat far out at sea”.

Not all of the migrants who arrive on yachts or fishing vessels in Calabria stay in Italy, with many leaving in the hopes of reaching France, Germany, or the United Kingdom.

A considerable number of migrants even show up with fake Italian vaccine passports, which are required in order for the migrants to use public transport as well as other amenities.

Italy has seen over 56,000 migrants land on its shores this year. Last month, the Mediterranean country received over 2,500 in the space of a single week.

Meanwhile, the number of migrants that have crossed the English Channel to reach England sits at over 25,000, which is around three times last year’s number. The United Kingdom has seen the number of yearly asylum claims skyrocket to a 20-year high, with over 15,000 people claiming asylum in the third quarter of 2021 alone.

Poland and the Baltic States are also struggling with a serious migrant crisis on their frontiers with Belarus. The European Union on Thursday granted Poland, along with neighbouring EU member-states Lithuania and Latvia, the power to swiftly detain and deport migrants in an effort to help fend off the crisis, which is believed to be orchestrated by the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Polish forces have been attacked by migrants repeatedly, with rocks and even stun grenades thrown at those guarding the border, in some cases causing serious injury.

“These are not the tactics of attack, but they are tactics of siege,”  Lithuanian MP Dovilė Šakalienė said regarding the crisis, going on to accuse Belarus, which is outside the EU, of conducting a “hybrid attack where people are smuggled into the country, imported like objects”.

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