Italian authorities have busted a human trafficking ring that was operating between Tunisia and Sicily and arrested four suspects. Nearly 10,000 Tunisians attempted to enter Italy in 2017, with two-thirds stopped in Italy and the remainder stopped in Tunisia.
Italian Carabinieri police have arrested four suspected human traffickers in an operation against illegal migration from Tunisia to Sicily.
For over a year, Carabinieri agents from Sciacca, in the province of Agrigento, conducted an investigation that included shadowing and wiretapping the suspects. Through their investigation they were able to document various steps that the group was taking in organizing and carrying out human trafficking.
According to the investigation, the crossings took place with powerful speedboats that travelled between the beaches of Al Huwariyah, Tunisia's closest point to Italy, and the Sicilian port of Trapani — in particular Marsala or Mazara del Vallo — covering an average of about 100 miles.
The operation by the Marsala prosecutor's office, named Operation Charon after the ancient Greek and Roman ferryman of Hades, concluded at sunrise on March 3 with about 70 Carabinieri agents from the Provincial Command of Agrigento. The four suspects were arrested and charged with facilitating illegal migration, as well as smuggling foreign tobacco.
Investigators said the traffickers were smuggling black-market contraband cigarettes together with the migrants. They said smuggling operations were coordinated by an Italian who travelled often to Tunisia to manage the crossings and make direct arrangements with his Tunisian accomplices. On each crossing, about 12 to 15 people were transported on the speedboat, as well as around 1,600 cartons of cigarettes. Each migrant paid between 4,000 and 5,000 euros for the crossing.
Thousands of Tunisian migrants tried to enter Italy illegally in 2017
A total of 9,329 Tunisian migrants tried to enter Italy illegally in 2017, a 200 percent increase compared to the previous year, according to a report published by the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights. Of these, 66 percent were intercepted in Italy, while the remaining 34 percent were prevented from leaving by the Tunisian authorities, particularly in the last quarter.
The report is based on data provided by the Tunisian and Italian Interior Ministries and UNHCR. The Italian Interior Ministry said 6,151 Tunisians landed in Italy illegally last year. Migration to Italy and Europe from Tunisia peaked in October 2017, the report said.
A total of 271 non-Tunisian migrants from the Maghreb region and sub-Saharan Africa attempted to reach Europe from Tunisia, and 2,193 Tunisians repatriated in 2017.