Rome, May 11 (IANS/AKI) Police said they arrested 13 people in Sicily on Wednesday for allegedly abetting illegal immigration and holding Somali migrants hostage to extort money from them.
The arrests followed a probe of an alleged criminal gang of mainly Somali nationals, spearheaded by prosecutors in the eastern port city of Catania, police said.
The gang abducted migrants from reception centres in Italy, only allowing them to continue their journeys north when they received payments from the migrants’ relatives or friends, according to police.
A number of children were among “several dozen” Somali migrants freed by police since the investigation began in October, police said.
Somalis account for nine percent of the 31,000 migrants who have landed in Italy so far this year, according to the UN’s refugee agency.
The majority of Somali refugees hope to reach northern Europe and, like Eritrean and Sudanese migrants, they rarely claim asylum in Italy.