UK: Alleged Mastermind of Mediterranean Migrant Smuggling Arrested
U.K. authorities have arrested a man who is believed to be the mastermind behind the smuggling of thousands of people across the Mediterranean from North Africa into Italy.
The suspect, a 40-year-old Egyptian national, has been detained in Hounslow, West London, on Wednesday, and is being questioned on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) investigators suspect that the man was working with people smuggling networks in North Africa to organize boats that could carry hundreds of migrants at a time. He is also believed to have maintained communication with criminal associates during the crossings.
The man is linked to a number of illegal crossings from North Africa to Italy over the past year.
In October 2022, Italian authorities rescued over 640 migrants from a wooden boat that attempted to cross from Libya. The boat was taken to port in Sicily and then two months later they rescued 265 migrants from a 20-meter fishing boat found adrift in the Mediterranean. The boat left Benghazi in Libya.
Then in April this year, two search and rescue operations were undertaken after calls were made to the coast guard. In each case, more than 600 migrants were found on board.
“We suspect this man has been running his operation from the U.K., and masterminding the smuggling of thousands of migrants. The type of boats organized crime groups use for crossings are death traps, and sadly many people have died after incidents in the Mediterranean, which demonstrates the level of danger,” said Darren Barr, a senior investigating officer at the NCA.
The United Nartions stated that migrants and refugees face "unimaginable horrors" when attempting to reach the Mediterranean Sea, including killings, torture, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, slavery, and exploitation by both state and non-state actors, from the moment they step onto Libyan soil.
“Abuse actually is along the route and even sometimes it starts within the country of origin and follows people as they move,” said Othman Belbeisi, IOM Senior Regional Advisor to the Director General on Middle East and North Africa in an UN report.
“Especially as they are moving at the hands of those smugglers and traffickers. People do not know their locations and they do not have communications, so even if people die or go missing, it’s very difficult to verify or to know where those people get missed,” he said.
Data collected by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) show that 27,565 missing migrants have been recorded since 2014 in the Mediterranean Sea with the last recorded accident on 20 June 2023.
IOM has stated that the death of at least 200 migrants in 2023 in the Central Mediterranean Sea has been linked to delayed state-led rescues. The report indicated that there were six separate incidents where delays in rescue operations contributed to the deaths of at least 127 people. “The complete absence of response to a seventh case claimed the lives of at least 73 migrants,” it said.
According to the report, over 400 migrants died while attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean between January and March of 2023, making it the deadliest first quarter on record since 2017.