The Malta Today newspaper published a report claiming that intelligence shows how smugglers use chartered flights from Damascus to lure Bangladeshi migrants to Libya, and onwards to Europe
According to material viewed by MaltaToday, hundreds of Bangladeshi migrants are being smuggled onboard charter aircraft into Libya, where they then board boats to Europe.
In its report, the newspaper said that criminal organisations are utilising aircraft operated by Syrian airline, Cham Wings to transport migrants from Damascus and Benghazi for €1,500 per person.
A €500 “administrative fee” is charged, which is likely the profit the criminal organisations make from each individual.
The migrants are then placed on boats in Libya, where they set out on the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to reach Italy.
The airline tickets are supplied to migrants at the airport, and may only be purchased with cash from a certain travel agency. According to intelligence, traffickers take the migrants’ passports and make the reservations on their behalf.
The data was acquired by Frontex, a European border agency, and during debriefing sessions with migrants who had been rescued by Italian and Maltese police. Last year, a study outlining this network of smuggling was provided to the European Commission and made accessible to EU home affairs ministers.
For the past year, concerns have been raised about the overwhelming volume of Bangladeshi migrants trying to travel to Italy.
On 12 March, a boat sank in heavy weather 177 kilometres northwest of Benghazi, while carrying 47 passengers.
Thirty persons were reported missing, with the Italian Coast Guard rescuing 17 of them after a merchant ship’s initial attempt to save them failed, owing to inclement weather.
Evidence indicates that the majority of passengers were from Bangladesh.
Three days after the event, Malta’s Home Affairs Minister, Byron Camilleri brought up the subject in Parliament. Without going into great detail, Camilleri talked about the chartered flights run by Cham Wings. He also let the Parliament know that Malta has written to the European Commission requesting that it take measures against the airline for aiding in human smuggling.