MILAN (AP) — The first of some 300 Afghan refugees arrived in Rome on Monday along a new humanitarian corridor organized by the Italian government, charities and international organizations, Italy’s Foreign Ministry announced.
The humanitarian corridor aims to give “additional refugees and persecuted Afghans the possibility of a future in dignity and security” following the U.S. withdrawal last August and the Taliban’s reassertion of control, the ministry said.
Thousands of Afghan citizens were evacuated after the fall of Kabul, but many who risked Taliban retribution were left behind. The Foreign Ministry said the corridor, which envisions the transfer of 1,200 Afghan refugees from Iran, Pakistan and other neighboring countries, would give priority to women and children.
The first nine Afghan refugees arrived on a flight from Tehran. Another 200 are flying from Islamabad on Wednesday with a third group arriving from Tehran on Thursday.
At the same time, the number of Afghan refugees taking smuggling routes is growing, with some 3,280 arriving in Italy by sea so far this year, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The International Organization for Migration said Afghans are the top nationality daring the perilous central Mediterranean Sea route to European shores, with 8,121 arrivals through last Friday.
Both organizations were involved in organizing the corridor transfers, along with Italy’s foreign and interior ministries and charities including the Community of Sant’Egidio and Caritas.
Italy has tried for several years to arrange humanitarian corridors so people fleeing conflict, persecution or other grave situations would have an alternative to being smuggled by human traffickers. But the numbers of those being able to reach other countries through these corridors are small compared to the tens of thousands of people who resort to smugglers to reach Europe.
In Sicily, Italian authorities, including border police, detained for investigation of people smuggling five Egyptians who were among 674 survivors aboard an overcrowded fishing boat that was aided last week off southern Italy, the Italian news agency ANSA said Monday. Rescuers found five bodies aboard the fishing boat. Those who died suffered from dehydration and excessive heat, ANSA said.
The suspects were being investigated in the Sicilian port of Messina for allegedly facilitating illegal migration and death as result of another crime, ANSA said. Many of the rescued migrants were transferred Sunday to Messina.
Some survivors told authorities that the smugglers beat them with clubs and belts during the sea voyage and sharply rationed drinking water on the boat, ANSA said.
In all, Italian authorities and charity ships reported rescuing over 1,100 people in the Mediterranean Sea last weekend.
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