POZZALLO , Italy, June 2 (UPI) -- After over 3,500 undocumented migrants arrived on Italian shores over the weekend, police said Monday it arrested five alleged smugglers of migrants.
The names of the alleged traffickers were not given, but police said the captain of a ship carrying 205 people, tracked by an Italian patrol ship from Malta to Sicily, offered a confession in exchange for leniency.
Over 40,000 migrants have arrived in Italy in 2014, nearly as many as the 43,000 who arrived in all of 2013, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said. The majority come from North African and Middle Eastern countries, particularly Syria, struck by civil war, drought and political repression. They arrive in Europe, notably Italy because of its proximity on the Mediterranean Sea, after paying for travel aboard typically overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels.
Most migrants seek "protection and it is therefore mandatory to welcome them, though this obligation concerns Europe and not a single country," Alfano said.
The Italian Air Force transported some of the migrants from Catania, in Sicily, to arrival centers in Rome and Verona. On Saturday, 838 people were pulled from the sea, and another vessel carrying 275 arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Another 720 people, aboard a boat which embarked from Libya, were brought into the port city of Pozzallo after they were rescued, and 147 more arrived Sunday in Catania.
Some said they traveled from Eritrea to Libya, and then to Italy.