Italian police stopped and arrested a 39-year-old Italian man who was driving a refrigerated minivan packed with 17 migrants after a high-speed chase at the French border, the police said Thursday.
The incident took place earlier this week.
Video filmed by police showed a white minivan speeding towards the border crossing, where it is blocked at the toll gate before entering into France.
The driver faces charges of aiding and abetting illegal immigration and inhumane and degrading treatment of people.
The 17 men of African origin were so tightly packed in the back of the minivan that one said he thought he was going to die of asphyxiation, the police statement said. Another passenger said he had paid 50 euros [$54.87] to a non-Italian man at the train station to be smuggled into France.
More than 145,000 migrants have arrived in Italy from North Africa so far this year, and European Union law says they must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter the bloc. But many migrants do not want to stay in Italy and seek to continue their journey onto other member states.
The frontier between Italy's Ventimiglia and Menton in southern France is often called "Mini Calais" after the camp set up near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel linking France and Britain. Hundreds of migrants try to cross the border by foot or by hiding in vehicles every week.
Each night people set out from Red Cross and Caritas camps on the Italian side in the hope that they can negotiate the 5-6 km [3.1 to 3.7 miles] of mountain passes and tunnels and enter France unnoticed.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team