Jan 6, 2015 8:32 AM

EU wants explanation from Turkey on migrant smugglers

The Associated Press

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 toward the EU without the 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 towards the Italian coast with no one at the helm.

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

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

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

The EU's border agency Frontex says the smugglers are probably business opportunists operating out of southeast Turkey and not part of any larger human trafficking network.

Spokeswoman Izabella Cooper, speaking to AP by telephone from Frontex headquarters in Warsaw, said that "there is no evidence of these networks being connected. This might just be a new business opportunity that someone has picked up in Turkey."

About 170,000 migrants were rescued at sea in 2014. Most tried to cross the Mediterranean from the Libyan coast packed into small unseaworthy boats assisted by criminal gangs. Frontex analysts have been unable to establish any links between the smuggling groups and believe they are acting autonomously.

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


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


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