Italian Intelligence Says ‘Rescue’ Ship NGOs Help Smugglers, Lead to More Migrant Deaths

THOMAS LOHNES/AFP via Getty Images

An Italian intelligence report released this week says NGO migrant “taxi” ships help people-smugglers and cause more deaths at sea.

The Italian Department of Security Intelligence (DIS) report released this week to the Italian parliament says the presence of migrant “taxis” claiming to be conducting rescue operations helped people smugglers and led to more migrants setting sail in hopes of coming across them.

“NGOs represent a logistical advantage for criminal organizations that manage the smuggling of migrants and expose disembarked people to a more concrete risk of shipwreck,” the report stated, newspaper Il Giornale reports.

The DIS added that some smugglers even use NGO activity as a selling point to prospective migrants, claiming that NGO vessels’ presence offers greater security for illegals making the often dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

Undersecretary to the Presidency of the Council Alfredo Mantovano explained the report in parliament, saying: “If I place ships at the limit of territorial waters, the probability increases that small boats will leave the mainland with the certainty of finding shelter ships.”

Similar allegations have been made in the past by the European Union border agency Frontex, which has called NGOs a “pull factor” for illegal immigration.

Prior reports have also alleged that some NGOs have directly worked with people-smugglers in the Mediterranean Sea.

The DIS report also detailed the smuggling networks engaged in using sailing boats, often departing from Turkey. This has been seen frequently since at least 2021, when reports claimed that stolen yachts were being used to ferry migrants to Italy.

According to the DIS, the networks mostly consist of Pakistanis and Kurds, and have logistical support in the countries of origin of the migrants, along with transit countries. They also extensively use social networks to advertise.

The report comes just days after people-smugglers led at least 67 people to their deaths when a boat that set sail from Turkey sank off the coast near Steccato di Cutro in south-eastern Italy, with at least 16 children among the victims.

The Crotone prosecutor’s office identified at least three men as possible smugglers, two Pakistanis and a Turkish national, who charged those on board the fatal voyage as much as €8,000 (£7,033/$8,461) each.

NGO activity, meanwhile, brought over 10,000 migrants to Italy last year alone.

The government of national conservative Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has enacted a security decree in an attempt to reel in their activities.

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.