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smugglers freeze migrant smuggling what happened

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A police operation in Caltanissetta has thwarted a gang of smugglers who operated human trafficking, transporting migrants from Tunisia to Italy.

According to what the police have reconstructed, the smugglers’ boats would have left the port of Gela or the coast of Agrigento to reach Tunisia. They would have loaded migrant people making a lot of money on their desperation and then immediately returned to Sicily, with the human “load”.

A still image taken shows a moment of the Caltanissetta Police ‘open sea’ operation which defeated a gang of smugglers. Ansa/Police Photo

Also Italian smugglers

Based on Caltanissetta Police’s Operation Open Sea, 18 preventive custody orders were issued for criminal association to aid illegal immigration. The recipients of the provision are 11 Tunisian citizens and 7 Italians. The investigating judge (Gip) ordered prison for 12 of them. For the other 6, house arrest. From the details of Operation Open Sea, it emerged that if there were any problems, such as engine failure, smugglers could “get rid of migrants on the high seas”.

This is the clue – which emerged from telephone interceptions – that the organizers had given to the smugglers. Who, according to the charges, left from the southern coast of Sicily to take migrants to Tunisia and bring them back to the island. Six of the 18 smugglers who received the measure from the magistrate of Caltanissetta are still untraceable because they are probably abroad. A suspect has been identified in Ferrara. Another was already in prison for crimes of the same type, a Tunisian, released from prison a few days ago, was at the Repatriation Center (CPR) of Ponte Galeria in Rome, awaiting repatriation.

Ansa/Police Photo

The boat stranded in Gela

The others were arrested in Sicily: 8 in Caltanissetta and one in Ragusa. The investigation into the smugglers began on February 21, 2019, when a 10-meter fiberglass boat with two 200 horsepower engines ran aground at the entrance to the port of Gela. The mobile team of the Caltanissetta police station, investigating the case, discovered that the boat had been stolen in Catania a few days earlier. And that dozens of people probably of North African origin had disembarked.

“Migrants exposed to death”

The police managed to trace a couple of Tunisian origin who, according to the indictment, facilitated the irregular entry into Italian territory, mainly of Maghreb citizens. As for the suspects, according to the reconstruction of the Caltanissetta prosecutor’s office, “there are serious indications of participation in a criminal organization dedicated to aiding and abetting aggravated illegal immigration”. Which had a “transnational character because it operated in several states”. The prosecutor of Caltanissetta also accuses the smugglers of the aggravating circumstance of having exposed the migrants to a serious danger to their lives. And to have subjected them to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Ansa/Police Photo

Smugglers’ Bases

The alleged criminal association of smugglers, who went to pick up the migrants in Tunisia from the southern coast of Sicily, would have had strategic points located in several centers of the island. Like Scicli, Catania and Mazara del Vallo. He would have used small boats, equipped with powerful outboard motors which would have operated in the arm of the sea between the Tunisian cities of Al Haouaria, Dar Allouche and Korba and the provinces of Caltanissetta, Trapani and Agrigento. They were able to reach the Italian coast in less than 4 hours.

The “journeys” of despair

According to the indictment, the smugglers transported 10 to 30 people at a time, exposing them to serious danger to their lives. The price per person, paid in cash in Tunisia before departure, would have been between 3,000 and 5,000 euros. The alleged profit of the criminal organization, according to the estimates of the investigation, would be between 30,000 and 70,000 euros for each trip.

Ansa/Police Photo

On July 26, 2020, during one of the trips, a boat is said to have left the port of Licata towards the Tunisian coast to pick up people to take to Italy. Only the failure of both engines prevented the trip from completing. The ship had remained adrift, in the “open sea” (hence the name of the police operation). The boat was then identified off the coast of Mazara del Vallo. From there began the investigation that led to today’s operation by 120 state policemen who arrested the smugglers.

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