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Turkey to Italy: Smugglers now offer passage to the EU on yachts

By www.nytimes.com — last modified Jun 12, 2017 09:05 AM
Since the beginning of the year, the Sicilian authorities have registered 125 migrants who have arrived on yachts and sailboats, mostly piloted by Ukrainian skippers, a lucrative and growing trend.

Published: 2017-06-09 23:00:00
Countries: Italy , Turkey

Turkey to Italy: Smugglers now offer passage to the EU on yachts

Image from the NY Times article: The yacht Maco, docked in Augusta, Sicily, was intercepted in mid-March about 70 miles off the Italian coast. It was carrying 21 migrants.

Read full report at https://www.nytimes.com

AVOLA, Sicily — It was a far cry from the rotting fishing boats and overstuffed dinghies that carry so many thousands of migrants precariously to Italian shores.

The family of six had paid about $96,000 to travel from Afghanistan to Turkey. The last leg of their journey, a cramped week’s sail through the Aegean and Mediterranean seas aboard a cerulean 15-meter yacht, the Polina, piloted by three Ukrainian skippers, cost $7,000 a head. It dropped them in Sicily in relative style.

As migrants go, this was luxury class.

It was not the first time that Carlo Parini, the police chief inspector against illegal immigration in the southeastern port of Syracuse, who met the family in April and recounted their story, had seen such a thing.

Since the beginning of the year, the Sicilian authorities have registered 125 migrants who have arrived on yachts and sailboats, mostly piloted by Ukrainian skippers, a lucrative and growing trend.

“It is likely that the organization is made up of Turks who use professional Ukrainian skippers, traditionally skilled, for the crossing,” said Francesco Paolo Giordano, the chief prosecutor in Syracuse, who is in charge of the investigations. “But it is still too early to say.”

Since the European Union cut a deal with Ankara in 2016, the numbers of refugees and migrants leaving Turkey in flimsy inflatable boats for the short passage to Greece have dropped sharply.

But the crackdown by the Turkish authorities has apparently not discouraged a widening network of hard-pressed but accomplished Ukrainian yachtsmen who ply the narrow Bosporus and are willing to smuggle Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians and others with the means and money. Captured boats have even included trophies and sailing medals.

The number of migrants in this elite category is a drop in the bucket compared with the 181,000 mostly sub-Saharan Africans who risked the treacherous crossing from Libya and Egypt to Sicily last year, dying by the hundreds nearly every week.

Nonetheless, the richer route from Turkish shores to southern Italy — occasionally on elegant wooden and fiberglass sailing vessels — is booming, the Italian authorities say.

Mr. Parini has watched the numbers of yachts engaged in the migrant trade grow steadily in his 10 years as head of an interforce group fighting illegal immigration.

Continue reading at https://www.nytimes.com

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