Smuggler gangs in the Mediterranean

As the number of migrants traveling to Italy via Libya explodes, smuggling gangs stand to make a profit.

Smuggler gangs in the Mediterranean are big, deadly business

Kavitha Surana and Maggy Donaldson

AUGUSTA, Sicily, Italy — Isma could see that the rubber dinghy he boarded with 100 other refugees was ill-equipped to carry them across the Mediterranean Sea to Sicily from the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

So it was no surprise when, only eight hours into a voyage that can take three days, the inflatable boat began to take on water. A satellite phone left behind by one of the smugglers made it possible to call the Italian coast guard for rescue before it was too late.

Isma, who is in his early 20s, was one of an estimated 207,000 people who surrendered their fate this past year to one of Libya’s once ragtag, now highly organized smuggler rings. By August 2014, the demand for passage from migrants and refugees fleeing war, oppression and poverty in the Middle East and Africa had reached its highest point on record. The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates at least 3,419 migrants have drowned on voyages between Africa and Europe this year alone despite the best efforts of an Italian rescue operation called Mare Nostrum that has rescued as many as 140,000 people since October 2013.

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