EU wants explanation from Turkey on migrant smugglers

AP News
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Posted: Jan 06, 2015 12:55 PM
EU wants explanation from Turkey on migrant smugglers

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union wants Turkey to explain how human traffickers could have taken two cargo ships filled with migrants out of the country and sent them toward Italy without Turkish authorities noticing.

European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said Tuesday that "given what has happened in recent days with the two ships, we wanted to clarify things with the Turkish authorities."

The cargo ships were picked up in the Mediterranean last week with more than 1,000 migrants aboard, many of them fleeing Syria. The smugglers had locked up the migrants and sent the ships speeding toward the Italian coast with no one at the helm.

Bertaud said contacts with Turkey are happening at the "political and technical level."

"It's always the same area the cargo ships are leaving from, so there is a problem that has to be resolved," she said.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry didn't have an immediate response.

The EU's border agency Frontex said the smugglers of the latest two cargo boats are probably business opportunists in southeast Turkey who are not connected to regular smuggling networks.

"There is no evidence of these networks being connected. This might just be a new business opportunity that someone has picked up in Turkey," spokeswoman Izabella Cooper told the Associated Press by telephone from Frontex headquarters in Warsaw.

Italy says it rescued at sea or escorted to shore about 170,000 migrants in 2014. Most tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea, departing from the Libyan coast in small, unseaworthy, overcrowded boats run by criminal gangs. Frontex analysts so far have been unable to establish any links between the many smuggling groups.

Cooper said Islamic extremists in Libya are making life dangerous for smugglers and migrants alike. New visa requirements in Algeria for Syrians could also be forcing those fleeing the conflict there to look for escape routes closer to home.

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Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.