Trafficking gangs are arranging a new way to ship migrants from Turkey to the EU by sailing to Italy, a leading German newspaper reports. Demand for alternative routes has been rising for weeks, according to the article.
The smugglers intended to start transporting refugees via the new Italian route in the first week of April, according to the Sunday edition of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" newspaper.
They would reportedly use small cargo vessels and fishing ships to ferry their customers from the seaside resort of Antalya in Turkey, the Turkish city of Mersin near the Syrian border, and the Greek capital, Athens.
According to the paper, the price for such trip is between 3,000 and 5,000 euros ($3,400 -$5,600), which is much more expensive than traveling the usual route from Turkish shores to one of the Greek islands.
However, refugees face growing obstacles attempting to reach Western Europe through Greece, with several countries along the Balkan route closing their borders to migrants. Last week, the EU also forged an agreement with Ankara about shipping migrants back to Turkey, slowing the influx to a trickle.
The traffickers responded to growing demand for alternative routes in recent weeks by preparing their new venture, according to the Sunday article.
Some of the smugglers aimed to offer two trips per week, and at least one claimed he could fit 200 people on a boat. They also advised migrants to stay below deck until the vessels reached international waters.
In addition to migrants in Turkey and Greece, hundreds of thousands of people were waiting to cross to Italy from Libya, EU officials said. The Italian interior ministry has registered almost 14,000 arrivals this year.