Pros­e­cu­tors build case against mi­grant traf­fick­ers


Ital­ian pros­e­cu­tors on Tues­day be­gan build­ing their case against the traf­fick­ers re­spon­si­ble for the drown­ing of as many as 950 mi­grants in the Mediter­ranean, as Euro­pean Union lead­ers mulled a new plan to un­der­mine smug­glers’ fi­nances and their most pre­cious as­sets — their ves­sels.

Overnight Tues­day, pros­e­cu­tors boarded the res­cue ship that brought the 27 sur­vivors of the week­end dis­as­ter to Si­cily and ar­rested the Tu­nisian cap­tain and a Syr­ian crew mem­ber of the smug­gler ship that cap­sized. They are ac­cused of fa­vor­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and the cap­tain was also ac­cused of reck­less homi­cide and caus­ing a ship­wreck.

Cata­nia pros­e­cu­tors said the cap­siz­ing was due to two fac­tors: The smug­gler cap­tain, Mo­hammed Ali Malek, 27, by mis­take rammed his boat into the Por­tugue­se­flagged cargo ship that had come to its res­cue. In ad­di­tion, the mi­grants them­selves then moved around on the over­crowded boat, which was al­ready un­bal­anced from the col­li­sion, mak­ing it cap­size.

The sur­vivors were brought Tues­day to a mi­grant hold­ing cen­ter in Cata­nia and were “very tired, very shocked, si­lent,” ac­cord­ing to Flavio Di Gi­a­como of the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Migration.

On Tues­day, Cata­nia pros­e­cu­tor Gio­vanni Salvi’s of­fice stressed that none of the crew aboard the Por­tuguese-flagged King Ja­cob is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the dis­as­ter, that the crew mem­bers did their job in com­ing to the res­cue of a ship in dis­tress and that their ac­tiv­i­ties “in no way con­trib­uted to the deadly event.”

The coast guard, mean­while, re­ported that it saved some 638 mi­grants in six dif­fer­ent res­cue op­er­a­tions on Mon­day alone. On Tues­day, a fur­ther 446 peo­ple were res­cued from a leak­ing mi­grant ship about 80 miles ( 130 kilo­me­ters) south of the Cal­abri- an coast.

The week­end deaths have jolted the Euro­pean Union into tak­ing ac­tion, with Italy de­mand­ing that it not be left alone to shoul­der the bur­den of res­cues and that the EU fo­cus on pre­vent­ing the boats from leav­ing Libya in the first place.

Ahead of an emer­gency EU sum­mit Thurs­day, EU for­eign and in­te­rior min­is­ters ap­proved a 10-point plan at a meet­ing in Lux­em­bourg that calls for the beef­ing-up and ex­pan­sion of the cur­rent EU bor­der pa­trol mission, and em­bark­ing on a “sys­tem­atic ef­fort to cap­ture and de­stroy” smug­gler boats.

The smug­glers use a va­ri­ety of boats for their cross­ings, from rub­ber Zo­diac- type boats to wooden fish­ing ves­sels and even old cargo ships. They are al­ways over­crowded to max­i­mize the rev­enue of the smug­glers, who charge be­tween 1,000 and 1,500 eu­ros (NT$33,262-49,894) for the cross­ing from Libya, where most traf­fick­ing op­er­a­tions orig­i­nate.

The EU plan calls for closer law- en­force­ment co­or­di­na­tion to trace smug­glers’ rev­enue sources, which pros­e­cu­tors have said of­ten evade tra­di­tional bank trans­fers in fa­vor of in­for­mal Arab hawala net­works, in which mi­grants’ rel­a­tives in Europe pay lo­cal bro­kers for each leg of the jour­ney.

Italy had launched a ro­bust and ex­pen­sive search-and-res­cue mission in 2013 af­ter some 366 mi­grants drowned off the is­land of Lampe­dusa. The po­lit­i­cally un­pop­u­lar Mare Nostrum op­er­a­tion ended last year, and the EU’s Fron­tex bor­der pa­trol mission took charge. But its limited man­date and re­sources have pre­vented it from be­ing ef­fec­tive in sav­ing lives.

The EU plan also calls for mem­ber states to en­sure all mi­grants are fin­ger­printed. As it is, many mi­grants merely pass through Italy with­out be­ing fin­ger­printed or ap­ply­ing for asy­lum here, pre­fer­ring in­stead to pay smug­glers to get them to north­ern Europe where they ap­ply for asy­lum and have bet­ter job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

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