Pressure is building up in the European Union on Cham Wings Airlines (SAW, Damascus) due to the carrier's alleged continuous involvement in carrying Bangladeshi and Syrian refugees and migrants to Libya on behalf of human trafficking syndicates.

MaltaToday reported that the gangs are using Cham Wings' services between Damascus and Benghazi in eastern Libya to carry people, who then continue to cross the Mediterranean to Malta or Italy. The sea crossings, usually undertaken on overloaded and unsafe boats, are notoriously dangerous and frequently result in mass drownings.

Intelligence gathered by Frontex, the EU's border policing body, indicates that the refugees are migrants who buy flight tickets from a specific travel agency, pay in cash, and only receive the tickets at Damascus airport. Flightradar24 ADS-B data shows that Cham Wings Airlines operates to Benghazi on a scheduled basis but with varying frequency. In March 2023, the carrier plied the route 2x weekly.

In response to the report, Maltese social democrat Member of the European Parliament Cyrus Engerer said he would ask the European Commission what steps are being taken to curtail Cham Wings' participation in the process.

"I asked the European Commission to immediately and officially provide an explanation of what it is doing about Cham Wings, which in the past was subject to blacklisting by the European Union and which was eventually removed from this blacklist, despite existing intelligence indicating that they are still operating close to migrant smuggling criminal groups," the deputy said.

The Syrian carrier was sanctioned by the EU in December 2021 due to its alleged involvement in a similar scheme, wherein migrant and refugee traffickers would use its route to Minsk National. At that time, Belarus was accused of orchestrating a migration crisis at the Polish and Lithuanian borders. Cham Wings Airlines stressed that its flights to Minsk were operated on a scheduled basis and could not verify whether passengers with valid tickets and documents to enter Belarus were being smuggled or planned to migrate further.

The EU removed Cham Wings from its sanctions list in summer 2022, but the carrier's attempt to also secure EU Third Country Operator (TCO) authorisation have so far come to nought. On top of that, just as the airline itself was removed from the sanctions list, the EU designated its owner Issam Shammout for involvement in the regime-run economy of Syria (Shammout is challenging the designation in court). Both Cham Wings Airlines and Shammout are also similarly designated by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Cham Wings Airlines did not respond to ch-aviation's request for comment.