Italy arrests about 20 people for migrant smuggling

Police in Italy and Albania have arrested a score of people accused of receiving hundreds of millions of euros for bringing hundreds of refugees and migrants from Turkey to the European Union on yachts and other luxury chartered vessels, authorities said on Wednesday.

Two Iraqi brothers are accused of leading a gang of people smugglers who had fled Iraq and Syria. They were arrested without incident near Venice before dawn. The Italian financial police peacefully raided a modest house and the two brothers left with their hands handcuffed. They both wore sportswear.

The suspects, identified as Alaa Qasim Rahima, 38, and Omar Qasim Rahima, 30, are accused of running a smuggling ring that helped transport Syrians from Turkey through a network of associates in several countries.

They are believed to be part of a larger gang of some 80 members, suspected organizers of some 30 operations to take at least 1,100 people from Turkey to the Puglia coast and from there to other European countries, the Europol police agency said.

Another ringleader, also an Iraqi, is accused of helping smugglers evade detection in Italy and return to Turkey via Greece.

Payments were made through informal funds transfer systems such as hawala, which are used in countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East by both low-wage workers and criminal gangs to move funds without leaving records.

Authorities estimate that illicit profits from the movement of migrants run into hundreds of millions of euros.