Spain Arrests 10 Algerians in Human Smuggling Ring

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Spanish police said Tuesday they have arrested ten suspected members of a ring that smuggled Algerian migrants by boat into Spain, charging around 600 euros ($680) per person to make the dangerous crossings in which two people died.

Officers detained the ten Algerians, who are thought to have smuggled "dozens" of migrants into Spain, in Almeria and Murcia in southeastern Spain, including the suspected leader of the gang, police said in a statement.

Police said they opened their investigation in November 2014 after two boats carrying a total of 38 Algerian migrants, including two children, were intercepted off the coast of Almeria in southern Spain.

Officer concluded during their investigation that two migrants fell overboard and were lost at sea during crossings organized by the ring.

During one attempted crossing the motor of the boat broke down and four of the suspects who were detained set fire to a drum of gasoline in the hope of being spotted by maritime rescue services.

"This act accidentally burned the clothes of four occupants of the boat who were forced to jump overboard. Three were able to return to the boat and the fourth drowned," the statement said.

Police did not provide details on the other migrants who they believe fell overboard during a crossing organized by the ring.

Thousands of migrants fleeing war and hardship try to cross the Mediterranean to reach Spain from North Africa on makeshift boats and inflatable dinghies each year in the hope of a better life in Europe.

Thousands also try to reach Spain by scaling border fences that surround Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish territories inside Morocco which are the European Union's only land borders with Africa.

Besides Spain, Italy has been has been struggling to cope with a massive jump in the number of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, the majority of them from war-wracked Syria or Eritrea.

According to the Italian Interior Ministry, 167,462 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea since the start of 2014 through to December 17.

The United Nations refugee agency declared in December that the Mediterranean has become "the deadliest route of all" for migrants.

The organization said that more than 3,400 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2014 trying to reach Europe and urged governments to take more action to save lives.

The UN also said at least 384,000 people, including a growing number of asylum seekers, had taken to the seas since the beginning of the year, almost three times the previous high of 70,000 during the 2011 NATO-backed uprising in Libya.

Most migrants are from Syria, where conflict has raged for nearly four years, as 60,051 were reported to have made the crossing, and Eritrea with 34,561, where human rights experts say national service, an indefinite conscription, amounts to forced labor.

Many travel in rickety, unseaworthy boats. A large percentage of them either die or fall victim to human traffickers.

The vast majority use smugglers, who typically charge them large sums of money, to make the crossings.

In December, the Italian navy rescued at least 2,300 migrants in several operations on Christmas Day and Eve. Also in the same month, a total 408 migrants, mainly Syrians, were rescued after spending six days adrift on a boat in the Mediterranean.

In November, navy and coast guard boats found an inflatable dinghy adrift of the island of Lampedusa. They rescued 75 migrants and recovered the bodies of 17 who died from hypothermia and dehydration.

In September, around 500 people drowned after their boat sank off Malta, also a popular destination neighboring Italy, including up to 100 children who had been making the treacherous journey from Egypt to Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration.

A fifth of them were Palestinians from the besieged Gaza Strip driven by war and unemployment to leave the enclave for a better future.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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