ATHENS – European police have dismantled a criminal network that made hundreds of millions of euros smuggling migrants from Turkey to Italy mainly on yachts, Greek police said.
Greece and Italy have been on the frontline of Europe’s migration crisis since it began in 2015. While most migrants and refugees typically cross from Turkey to nearby Greek islands, a growing number of people have reached Italy from Turkey by sea since 2020, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
Twenty-nine people were arrested in raids in Albania, Greece and Italy on Jan. 19, Greek police said late on Thursday. It said the network was active in all three countries, as well as a Turkey, since early 2020.
Europol, the European police organization which backed the operation, said at least 1,100 migrants have been smuggled by the network of about 80 people which is thought to have made “hundreds of millions of euros”.
Most transfers took place by sea from Turkey to Italy mainly on leisure vessels including yachts, but also overland from Greece to Italy through Albania. Smugglers charged around 5,000 euros per person.
Some of the yachts used had been stolen from regions in western Greece and the group in Turkey recruited and trained skippers mainly from Ukraine, the Greek police statement said.
Last month, more than 30 asylum-seekers drowned and many more were feared missing in three shipwrecks that occurred within days of each other in Greece. According to the coast guard, survivors said they were headed to Italy.