Police dismantle a network of smugglers of migrants from Turkey to Italy in yachts

ATHENS, Jan 21 (Reuters) – European police have broken up a criminal network that has made hundreds of millions of euros smuggling migrants from Turkey to Italy, mostly on yachts, Greek police said.

Greece and Italy have been at the forefront of Europe’s migration crisis since it began in 2015. While most migrants and refugees typically cross from Turkey to neighboring Greek islands, increasing numbers of people have reached Italy from Turkey by sea since 2020, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Twenty-nine people were arrested in raids in Albania, Greece and Italy on January 19, Greek police said on Thursday. He said the network has been active in all three countries, as well as Turkey, since early 2020.

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Europol, the European police organization that backed the operation, said at least 1,100 migrants were smuggled through the network of around 80 people who reportedly fetched “hundreds of millions of euros”.

Most of the transfers took place by sea from Turkey to Italy, mainly on pleasure vessels, including yachts, but also by land from Greece to Italy via Albania. The smugglers charged around 5,000 euros per person.

Some of the yachts used had been stolen from parts of western Greece and the group in Turkey recruited and trained skippers mainly from Ukraine, according to the Greek police statement.

Last month, more than 30 asylum seekers drowned and many more went missing in three shipwrecks that occurred within days of each other in Greece. According to the Coast Guard, the survivors said they were heading for Italy.

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Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Toby Chopra

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