ROME—Not your usual taxi ride. It might have been the thought of the German police last year, while investigating Italian cab drivers transporting foreign passengers beyond the borders. The alleged crime was aiding illegal immigrants.
Recently, the case has exploded with the arrest of two drivers from the region Veneto. They were intercepted and arrested at the German border with at least 25 immigrants of Syrian origin, who turned out to be illegal during custom controls.
The news, reported by the local newspapers Il Giornale di Vicenza and Il Mattino di Padova, is the latest action in a series of detentions and arrests from the German authorities. According to Il Giornale di Vicenza, at least four people ended up in handcuffs in Germany with the same criminal charge. Even though they have been set free, they will have to stand trial in a German court.
The Italian consulate of Munich in Bavaria, Germany, confirmed the matter in a statement, estimating that 50 to 60 Italians were involved in the issue. “There have been dozens of stops, not all during this time period, but in recent months. The drivers involved, often in good faith, agreed to accompany people who were not residents in Italy, and therefore could not make use of the Schengen system.”
In a time when illegal immigration in southern Italy has reached record figures, the Peninsula is being used as a way to get through, so Italy is not the final destination.
“It is not mandatory to know who we take on board,” says Pierpaolo Campagnolo, President of the Taxi Drivers Cooperative of the Province of Vicenza. “Yes, we carried many of the refugees who were in our cities, but when the customer is decent, and pays, there’s no law which requires us to check their identity. The same applies to those who rented a Pullman car.”
The consulate tries to reassure, stating that the whole thing is not seen as part of “an organization […], and that there is a big difference with smuggling.” At the same time, the consulate, who promised all possible help, pointed out that whoever is involved, will have to answer to the German law.
Just a few weeks ago, the Bavarian Interior Minister, Joachim Hermann, accused the Italian government of not doing enough to control illegal immigrants who reach Europe. “In many cases, Italy intentionally does not take personal data and fingerprints, so to allow refugees to seek asylum in another country,” he told the news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
In fact, European regulations require that the first country in which the refugees come, is responsible for the procedures of the identification, plus assisting possible asylum requests. A procedure that feels too burdensome for Italy. But this could be relieved by the direct intervention of Brussels.
The European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, has promised the start of a conjoint operation Frontex Plus to support, both logistically and economically, the Italian efforts to deal with thousands of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East.
*Image of “taxis” via Shutterstock