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26th Nov 2022

Human smuggling to EU worth €5bn a year

  • Some 170 sumuggler hotspots identified in Europe (Photo: iom.int)

Smuggling people into the EU has become a €5 billion-a-year "multinational business" for crime syndicates that extend from Berlin to the deserts of Niger.

The findings, out in an international police report on Tuesday (17 May), said the criminal groups played a role in 90 percent of the more than 1 million irregular entries into Europe last year.

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  • People "increasingly" targeted for sexual and labour exploitation (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The migrants usually pay, between €3,000 and €6,000 each, after they arrive in the EU.

The money changes hands primarily in cash or via Hawala, a network of informal money brokers in Europe, north Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

There is so much of it that not just officials but even military officers are bribed along the way, said the joint report, by Interpol in Lyon, France, and by Europol in The Hague, Netherlands.

Couriers smuggle the cash out of the EU in suitcases through airports or stuffed in vehicle parts at land crossings.

The bosses then launder the money back home via car dealerships, grocery shops, restaurants, barbershops, internet cafes and travel agencies.

The main organisers are non-EU nationals from the same ethnic origins as the migrants. But the report said "facilitators who originate outside the EU and are active inside the EU have often acquired the nationality of the country in which they work, or have residence permits in those countries".

The gangs include leaders who run entire routes, local managers, and low-level agents who work as scouts, recruiters or drivers.

There are some 170 transit and recruitment "hotspots" for smugglers inside the EU - in cities as far afield as Helsinki, Brussels, Milan, Athens and Madrid. There are 80 outside Europe. The main ones are in Libya, Niger, Syria and Turkey. But the syndicates’ activities extend as far as Kenya and Bangladesh.

The report said the gangs do not wage "violent competition" against each other. Instead, the large ones gradually take over the main routes in a process of “oligopolisation”.

Europol and Interpol have over 40,000 suspects from more than 100 countries on their lists.

Many of them are dangerous people who also smuggle drugs and guns and who forge documents.

Some of them are involved in human trafficking - taking people against their will. But even those who pay to go put themselves at risk.

The report said migrants "may be exposed to labour exploitation, sexual exploitation or be forced to serve as drug mules or participate in the recruitment and smuggling of other migrants".

It said the gangs are "increasingly" targeting people who cannot pay in order to own their debt.

The investigation noted that there was no evidence of "systematic" use of migrant routes by terrorists, despite the threat.

In other insights into the new industry, Europol and Interpol said fake IDs are often "rented out to migrants" then taken back to be reused.

They said smugglers typically put up to 40 people on an eight to 12-metre long rubber dinghy and set them off alone from Turkey to Greece.

But with the Greek route to the EU all-but closed, the highly "fluid" gangs are turning to other areas.

"In Libya alone, around 800,000 migrants are waiting to travel to the EU", the report said.

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