The Turkish news agency DHA has reported that some migrant smugglers in Turkey are using a new trick to deceive migrants: Taking money from them to reach Italy and then after a long journey, letting them out of the trucks, still in Turkey.
A group of people smugglers recently tricked 84 migrants in Turkey who were hoping to reach Italy. According to the Turkish News Agency DHA, the smugglers took €1,000 per person from the migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, Syria and Egypt, telling them they would drive them to Italy.
After 30 hours of driving, they let them out of the truck, still in Turkey. DHA reported on Friday that the driver of the truck let the men out in an olive grove in West Turkey near the town of Aydin and told them, "we’ve arrived in Italy."
The journey started in Istanbul
The men got into the truck in Istanbul which is 600 kilometers away from Aydin. According to the German news agency dpa, locals in Aydin called the police when they saw the group of people wandering around. There have not yet been any updates of what happened to the driver who released the migrants in Aydin.
A study by the European Union in 2015 looking at the characteristics of migrant smuggling in Turkey, Bulgaria and Nigeria, found that many migrant journeys began in Istanbul, with Turkey being both a destination and a transit point for migrants hoping to reach Europe.
The study interviewed smugglers and traffickers as well as migrants who had been smuggled along these routes, in addition to police and government authorities to obtain information for the research. They found that many migrants fell victim to various kinds of fraud.
Victims of deception
One of the most common was to pay for a destination and then to be beaten up and dumped along the way. Another was to be promised guides or transport over the border to Bulgaria or Romania and then to be left alone in the forest. In winter, found the study, there were stories of one migrant developing gangrene in his foot because of the freezing temperatures, and another getting lost and dying, his body allegedly eaten by wolves.
The report also found that most migrant journeys with smugglers involve several different forms of transportation and drivers with a chain of interconnected local smugglers changing before or after each crossing point. The more the borders are surveyed, the higher the likelihood is that the smugglers will change drivers, or make the migrants cross the border on their own before resuming their journey on the other side, to avoid the risk of the smugglers being caught and stopped by the police.
The long drive to Italy
For migrants to have reached Italy by land, the smugglers would have had to cross numerous borders. Depending on the route taken, it is likely they would have had to have crossed about eight borders, traveling through Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia, or Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Albania and then across the sea to Italy.
According to various online travel sites, it would take around 20 hours to drive directly from Istanbul to the Italian capital Rome and would cover around 2,225 kilometers in distance, traveling through Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and then down into Italy via Venice, Bologna, Florence and finally arriving in Rome.
'Tricked into the migrant trade'
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project OCCRP wrote an article in 2019 in which it found that even some of the alleged smugglers claim they have been "tricked into the migrant trade." This, according to OCCRP, was the case of one young Ukrainain sailor who is now serving a sentence of nine years in Italy for people smuggling.
He says he was told he would be transporting tourists on yachts around the Mediterranean, only to find himself sailing migrants from Turkey to Italy. Another man, who also says he was tricked, is serving a 233-year sentence in Greece.
For those journeys by yacht from Turkey to Italy, a Europol official told OCCRP in 2019 that the journey might typically cost the migrant between €4,000 and €6,000 for the voyage.
Failure to catch the kingpins
Although Italian and Greek authorities have quite regularly stopped and arrested the crews of these yachts when they are found to be carrying people smugglers, OCCRP and the various officials they spoke to says the sailors manning the yachts are relatively small-fry in the game, even when they knew what they were doing and were willing participants.
Matteo Villa, an analyst for the Migration Program at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, told OCCRP that the authorities are not really tackling the criminal networks who are masterminding the smuggling.
Villa called the "large-scale arrests of relatively low-level smugglers is more a PR exercise than the reflection of an effective policy." He added that the kingpins behind the rings tended to "remain in places more difficult to reach by European authorities, [in terms of prosecution.]"