AFP, June 8, 2016
An Eritrean dubbed “the general”, suspected of controlling a migrant trafficking network responsible for shipping thousands of people to Europe and sending some to a watery grave, has been extradited to Italy.
Medhanie Yehdego Mered, 35, who had been on a wanted list since 2015 for international people smuggling, was arrested in the Sudanese capital Khartoum and flown to Italy late Monday.
Referred to in wiretapped conversations between his subordinate alleged traffickers as “the general” for his control over a large area and number of “troops”, Mered is accused of organising the smuggling of up to 8,000 people a year on migrant boats.
It is the first time a suspected top smuggler has been arrested in Africa and brought to face justice in Italy, which has been overwhelmed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people since the migrant crisis began in 2008.
Mered allegedly directed operations in Africa but also kept fellow operators in Italy up to date on the arrival of boats, so migrants could be picked up and squeezed for more money to continue to their final destinations in Europe.
Between 2012 and his capture, he also played a key role in helping migrants escape from Libyan jails and detention centres, bribing guards to let them out and then holding them to extort money from their relatives back home, police said.
Wiretaps of Mered’s conversations revealed he was in contact with traffickers in northern Europe, particularly in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, and held a “senior position in a criminal network operating in several continents”, Italian police said.
The taps followed smugglers who were constantly on the move between Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Sudan, the UAE and Europe.
Mered was a contact point for people worried relatives may have disappeared during the perilous Mediterranean crossing.
He was loving with his family on the telephone, making several references to leaving Libya and moving to Sweden to be with his wife, but showed “utter disregard for the lives of the migrants, appearing cynical and unscrupulous”, Italian police said.