According to intelligence seen by MaltaToday, criminal groups are smuggling Bangladeshis and Africans into Italy, charging migrants €1,500 each for the transfer between Damascus in Syria and Benghazi in Libya. Flights operated by Syrian airline Cham Wings are used for this purpose.
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Hundreds of Bangladeshi migrants are being smuggled aboard charter flights into Libya where they get onto boats to reach Europe, according to intelligence seen by MaltaToday.
Criminal groups are charging migrants €1,500 each for the transfer between Damascus in Syria and Benghazi in Libya, using flights operated by Syrian airline Cham Wings.
A €500 ‘administration fee’ is also levied, which is probably the money made by the criminal organisations off each smuggled person.
In Libya, the migrants are then assigned to boats that embark on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Italy.
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Migrants are given the flight tickets at the airport and these can only be bought in cash from a particular travel agency. Intelligence suggests that smugglers take the migrants’ passports and book the flights on their behalf.
The information comes from intelligence gathered by Frontex, the European border agency, and Italian and Maltese police debriefing sessions with rescued migrants. A report giving details of this smuggling network was presented to the European Commission and made available to EU home affairs ministers last year.
Eyebrows were raised over the past year on the sheer number of Bangladeshi migrants attempting to cross from Libya to Italy in boats that often end up in difficulty.
On 12 March, one such boat capsized in bad weather around 177km northwest of Benghazi with 47 people on board.
In the incident, 30 people went missing and 17 were rescued by the Italian coastguard after an initial attempt by a merchant vessel failed due to the bad weather.
Information suggests that the majority of people on board were Bangladeshi nationals.
The incident prompted Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri to raise the issue in parliament three days later. Camilleri spoke about the chartered flights operated by Cham Wings without giving much detail. He also informed the House that Malta wrote to the European Commission to take action against the airline, which was facilitating people smuggling.
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