Smugglers arrest induce change in migrant routes to Europe

Rome, Sep 9 (IANS) Italian authorities said the increasing number of people arrested for allegedly smuggling refugees across the Mediterranean in latest months had a role in making traffickers change their routes, the media reported on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, up to 30,000 people of different nationalities were estimated as having a role in such traffic considering the whole migration inflow into Europe, Xinhua cited the European Union (EU) law enforcement agency Europol.

Over 100 alleged smugglers have been arrested in Italy between June and August only, prosecutors in Palermo said on Monday after an operational meeting.

Phone conversations between people suspected of leading migrant smuggling rings gave evidences that traffickers worried about the increasing danger of being detected and arrested once landed in Italy.

The increased risk of being arrested in Italy would have brought smugglers to focus more and more on alternative routes across the Balkans, according to investigators.

The suggestion would be corroborated by the sharp increase in the number of asylum-seekers and migrants passing through the “Western Balkan” route lately.

At least 244,855 people arrived in Greece up to August and some 90,000 passed through Serbia, according to UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Serbian authorities respectively.

The Western Balkan path involves two major migration routes to the EU – a minor one at the border between Turkey and Bulgaria, and a major one going from Turkey to Greece and then through Macedonia and Serbia into Hungary, according to the EU border control agency.

Earlier this week, the media also reported Europol agency warned the fight against migrant smuggling must be a top priority for all EU member states, since the criminal business would involve up to 30,000.

Tackling the migrant smuggling would need to be prioritised also in view of the high number of victims, especially in the perilous journey people make across the Mediterranean on unsafe crafts.

Up to 3,500 people were estimated to have lost their life at sea in 2014, and at least 2,750 so far this year, according to the UNHCR.

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