Afghan refugees attempting to find sanctuary in Europe washed up in the Calabria region of Southern Italy last week. The refugees, who are hoping to escape the present unrest in their home country at the hands of the Taliban, took an unusual route via Turkey to the shores of Italy.
Afghan, Iraqi, Iranian, and Kurdish families with more resources at their disposal have begun shelling out large amounts of money to travel from Turkey on discrete sailboats that evade the authorities’ suspicions. The sailboats are typically operated by Ukrainian smugglers working together with the Turkish or Italian mafias.
These routes are known as taking “1st class,” but the experience is often a harrowing one for those on board. Passengers describe being crowded on the boats with 100 other people as they ran out of food and hydration.
This passageway delivers refugees to the southern tip of Italy’s “boot” instead of Sicily. It has steadily become a more commonly used option by refugees in 2021, and now comprises 16% of migrant routes to Italy.
“We are seeing Afghans. We are seeing Iraqis. We are seeing Iranians, Kurds,” said Chiara Cardoletti, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy, in an interview with NPR. Cardoletti also noted that these migrants meet a different profile than normal: “right now on all the routes what you are seeing is an increase in the number of families arriving with lots of children. And that is true also for the route to Calabria.”
Families have reportedly paid 8,500 euros ($9,600) each for adult spots on the sailboats, with children costing 4,000 euros ($4,500.)
Vittorio Zito, the mayor of Roccella Jonica, a town located along the Calabrian route that smugglers flock to, told NPR that “The traffickers, who obviously have no concept of human scruples, are now even squashing 100 people in each sailboat.”
Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has deepened refugee crisis
The UNHCR estimates that 400,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Afghanistan since the beginning of this year when the Taliban began its rise to power in the country.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on countries to take in Afghan refugees as their country falls yet again to the Islamic militants.
The United States said it will take in 30,000 Afghan refugees, while Canada has said it will resettle 20,000.
“As the world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart, I urge all countries to be willing to receive Afghan refugees and refrain from deportations,” Guterres tweeted.
“Afghans have known generations of war and hardship. They deserve our full support,” he wrote.
Greece “will not be a gateway for a new wave of refugees”
In rebuttal, however, Greece’s Minister of Immigration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, declared that “It is clear that our country will not be a gateway for a new wave of refugees.”
Mitarakis spoke on Open television following developments in the Asian country and the likeliness of an influx of Afghan refugees to Greece via Turkey.
“In the last 12 months we have shown in practice that we know how to guard our borders and the reduction of flows has reached 96 percent,” he said.
“We have only 4,500 arrivals in 2021 compared to 15,000 last year and 72,000 in 2019, so it is clear that we are fully prepared to protect our borders,” the Minister stated.