ROME: Italian police conducted operation and arrested 10 Eritreans for smuggling migrants across the Mediterranean Sea in nearly two dozen voyages between May and September, including one that ended in the death of as many as 244 people off Libya.
Operation “jackal” in Tigrinya, Eritrea’s main language was led by police in the south Italian region of Catania and spanned the entire country, with arrests on the southern island of Sicily, as well as Lombardy in the north and Lazio in the central section of Italy. In addition, the operation involved the arrest of the alleged ringleader of the smuggling ring in Germany.
More than 150,000 migrants reached Italian shores by sea this year, the most on record, according to data from the International Organisation for Migration. But an estimated 3,000 have died during the crossing, deaths blamed on ramshackle, overcrowded boats in sometimes dangerous weather conditions, and the ruthlessness of smugglers whose main goal is the preservation of a steady stream of revenue from running the journeys.
Syrians make up the largest group of migrants by sea to Italy, with Eritreans just behind.
Since a shipwreck killed more than 300 off the shores of Lampedusa, an island near Sicily, in October 2013, Italian authorities have stepped up their efforts to rescue migrants in an operation known as Mare Nostrum. But that operation is winding down, to be replaced by a less costly and less ambitious European Union- sponsored border control mission known as Triton whose mandate is to watch for migrants within 30 miles of the Italian coast.
The operation to uncover the smuggling ring included the rescue of nine migrants, including eight minors, from a basement apartment in Catania. They had been held their against their will while waiting for additional money from relatives to fund their journeys to northern Europe.