'First class' refugees pay thousands to reach Italy by yacht
Published 23/04/2015 | 02:30
While poverty-stricken Africans and Asians are packed like slaves into leaky fishing boats crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, a new type of "first-class" refugee is emerging - wealthy Syrians paying thousands of pounds to be taken to Europe in yachts and motor launches.
Italian police this week impounded a private yacht in the port of Pozzallo, Sicily, after it brought 98 Syrians and Palestinians from Turkey, with each adult refugee paying €8,500 to smugglers.
There was a discount for the 23 children on board.
The refugees, believed to be relatively wealthy middle-class professionals, even took 'selfies' of each other on board the 80ft-long boat.
Police used the photographs to identify three Syrian alleged smugglers - Ahmed Sabaji (25), Billah Arroum (30), and Moustafa Aju Slima (28).
They were arrested and are now in custody, waiting to be charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigration.
Unlike the estimated 800 migrants who are believed to have died in the early hours of Sunday when their overcrowded boat sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean, the Syrians and Palestinians were given life jackets and adequate food and water.
"We paid a great deal of money so as not to die at sea," one of the migrants told Italian police. "The crew were very experienced and told us that our safety was important to them."
Other migrants said they had used up their entire savings to be able to pay for the voyage.
The yacht sailed from the Turkish coast, with the intention of crossing the Aegean and reaching an Italian port.
There the passengers would have disembarked, making their way unobserved to northern Europe.
But the engine broke down and the yacht started drifting.
It was spotted by a merchant ship, who took the refugees and alleged smugglers aboard and brought them to Pozzallo.
The refugees were taken to a migrant reception centre in Pozzallo, where they are expected to apply for asylum. (© Daily Telegraph, London)