EU officials have criticised China for contributing to the migrant crisis by refusing to crack down on the sale inflatable dinghies to people smuggling gangs.
Speaking after a meeting with China’s public security minister Guo Shengkun, Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration, said rubber vessels sold by Chinese vendors are fuelling the trafficking of migrants across the Mediterranean.
“China can help and support the EU in its fight against migrant smugglers. I requested the support and cooperation from the Chinese authorities in order to track down this business and dismantle it,” Avramopoulos told reporters.
“The rubber boats used by smuggler networks in the Mediterranean are fabricated somewhere in China.
“I requested the support and cooperation from the Chinese authorities in order to track down this business and dismantle it, because what they produce is not serving the common good of the country.”
In February last year, whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks published a confidential EU report that revealed customs officials in Malta had stopped a container of rubber dinghies similar to those used by smuggling gangs to ferry people from Libya to Europe.
“Reports of rubber boats being imported from China and transhipped in Malta and Turkey are supported by a recent interception by Maltese customs of 20 packaged rubber boats in a container destined for Misratah, Libya,” the report said.
“As there are no legal grounds for holding such shipments, it was released for delivery to the destination.”
Approximately two-thirds of trafficking journeys launched from Libya involve the use of rubber boats, as people smuggling gangs face a constant shortage of sturdier vessels, the report said.
Traffickers can pick up rubber dinghies for as little as $10 per unit from Chinese online marketplace Alibaba.com, where sellers sell flimsy inflatable vessels which are openly advertised as “refugee boats”.
Once they have been purchased, smuggling gangs load the boats with far more people than they are designed to carry, hoping that each one will be intercepted by the Italian coastguard or rescue boats run by charities.
Separately, the Italian coastguard has said that rescue workers yesterday saved hundreds of migrants crammed onto unseaworthy boats that had been launched from the northern shores of Libya.
Migrants travelling on the boats told rescuers that members of the trafficking gang that arranged their passage had shot dead one of their number on a Libyan beach so as they could steal his baseball cap.
Commenting on the fate of the murdered young Gambian on Twitter, Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) co-founder Chris Catrambone said: “According to eyewitnesses, the deceased teenager was killed by human traffickers because they wanted his baseball hat. What cruelty.
“The medical team onboard the [rescue boat] have confirmed that the deceased teenager died from gunshot wound.”