With war in Syria raging and refugees streaming into Europe, the business of human trafficking is flourishing. The dealers behind this dark enterprise are getting rich off the misery of Syrians and Iraqis desperate to make their way across the Mediterranean.
Since last September, the U.N. refugee agency has reported that human traffickers have increasingly been using unmanned large tugboats, or “ghost ships,” to smuggle refugees into European countries. The traffickers are setting the boat’s course and then abandoning ship, leaving it to European authorities to save the thousands of people crammed on board.
“Ghost ships” are the latest trend, according to UNHCR spokesman William Spindler, who told the BBC on Saturday that “it is apparent there have been other such incidents – maybe four or five in the past two months.”
According to the International Organization for Migration, the journey from Turkey to Italy, where many refugees arrive in Europe, costs between $4,500 and $6,000. But an illegal smuggling organization in northern Germany that used tug boats, which the German federal police discovered last summer, was asking for up to €10,000 ($11,958) per person to smuggle refugees into Germany.
The war in Syria has led to an explosion in refugees. In 2014, Italy saved more than 160,000 would-be migrants from the sea, a quarter of whom were Syrians. On Thursday, Italy discovered 360 refugees on the abandoned ghost ship “Ezadeen,” most of whom were Syrians.
Experts are expecting Europe’s population to grow through the increasing influx of refugees, as war in Syria and Iraq drives ever more people to flee their homelands. That will only increase as immediate neighbors to conflict zones such as Lebanon tighten their own restrictions on refugees. According to the BBC, Syrians refugees starting today will have to obtain a visa first before entering Lebanon.