Video: Voices of Human Traffickers Ermias Ghermay and Yohannes Mahray



Voices of Human Traffickers Ermias Ghermay and Yohannes Mahray | February 25, 2016


Sicilian prosecutor Calogero Ferrara has named two men – Ermias Ghermay, an Ethiopian, and Medhanie Yehdego Mered, an Eritrean – as kingpins in an organised-crime network responsible for bringing thousands of refugees to Italy. The men, Ferrara alleges, control an operation that is “much larger, more complex and more structured than originally imagined” when he began looking into smugglers. Both suspects are still at large.


Ferrara says the kingpins are opportunistic, purchasing kidnapped migrants from other criminals in Africa. They are also rich. By his calculations, each boat trip of 600 people makes the smugglers between $800,000 and $1 million before costs. Another smuggler whose activities Ferrara has been investigating made nearly $20 million in a decade.


Smugglers cut costs to maximise profit. They use cheap, disposable boats, dilapidated and rarely with enough fuel. They bank on Europe’s search and rescue missions. Some 150,000 people were saved in one year by an Italian naval operation that was launched in late 2013, according to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It was suspended in late 2014 to save money and has been replaced by a more restricted European operation.


If a human cargo does go down, the smugglers’ losses are minimal.


“There is no risk for the business,” Ferrara said. “If you traffic in drugs and you lose the drug, somebody must pay for the drug. If (the migrants) sink and most of them die, there is no money lost.”


So far, the networks have mostly eluded law enforcement because they are based on anonymous cells spread across many countries. Neither the refugees seeking smugglers’ services nor the families footing the bill are interested in drawing attention to how the networks operate. Girmay himself declined to be interviewed for this story.


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