Turning Migrants into Criminals


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German city closes its doors to refugees and migrants

Already in , the United States Institute of Peace warned that organised criminal behaviour, illicit trafficking and trade, and the armed groups that engage in them were harming the transition at a time when consolidating institutions of statehood was critical. As a likely result, in August of that year, hitherto brisk migrant-smuggling flows along the shores of Zawiya, west of Tripoli, came to a standstill.

Reportedly , a local group that collaborated with smuggling networks changed sides and started assisting Libyan agencies in stopping migration, illustrating the opportunistic character of those engaging in smuggling and the mercurial roots of the smuggling industry. But in the absence of viable economic alternatives, paying some of these groups to stop migrant smuggling is unlikely to be a sustainable approach. It also risks disrupting fragile local power balances and empowering actors who may not see any dividends in stabilizing the country.

Although it is clear that migrant smuggling is closely entwined with local economies and societies, little is known about where exactly the colossal proceeds from migrant smuggling go, how they are laundered, and how they relate to other economic sectors. In , for example, less than 10 percent of Europol investigations into migrant smuggling activities produced intelligence on suspicious transactions or money laundering activities.

In West Africa, OECD found that the economy around migrant smuggling was largely cash-based, which made it harder to track resulting illicit financial flows.

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However, according to the same OECD study , as more international networks to such flows are formed, the capacity to identify and seize assets related to migrant smuggling could grow. In a paper, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime confirmed that migrant smugglers in Europe often use cash-intensive businesses such as money service businesses and cash couriers front companies, and investments in assets such as cars and real estate, to launder their proceeds.

In Africa, buying real estate, investing in clubs and restaurants, offshore investments, and use of agents to carry cash are common. These findings tally with those of the inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force, which found several indicators of money laundering arising from migrant smuggling and human trafficking. There are some examples where the paths of such illicit flows have been identified.

In , a large, multinational criminal group that smuggled refugees and migrants primarily from Afghanistan and Pakistan from Serbia through Hungary and finally to Austria was dismantled. It is becoming increasingly clear how complex and murky the economics of migrant smuggling are, all the more so as its pickings are proving too rich for other criminal elements to pass up: in Europol reported that many organized crime groups in Europe had expanded their portfolios to include sector with a seemingly bottomless market: migrant smuggling.

In addition to the economic embeddedness discussed above, another layer of complexity — and another challenge for those working to eliminate migrant smuggling — comes in the form of local actors in origin and transit states who have vested interests in many aspects of the business. These include state officials who facilitate irregular migration to varying degrees, from turning a blind eye for a small fee to active involvement in migrant smuggling, thus gaining a significant percentage of the smuggling revenue. A third of the more than 10, refugees and migrants interviewed by 4Mi reported having paid a bribe directly to a government official.

Most of them used smugglers, and it can be safely assumed part of the smuggling revenue found its way back to certain state officials. Elimination efforts may also meet resistance from governments in countries of origin, which, because remittance flows from successful migrants form an important source income, are likely to have an interest in continued irregular migration for as long as legal channels remain limited.

For African migrants travelling to Europe, the motivation for leaving their country of origin mirrors that of migrants from Central America and South America: a lack of economic opportunities and political instability are two of the leading reasons.


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It is believed that many migrants heading to Europe from Africa are either smuggled by air with the aid of fraudulent documents or initially enter Europe legally and then remain in the country of destination once their visa has expired. The rest are smuggled along a combination of land and sea routes, which can take considerably longer and be more dangerous.

The journey from West Africa to Europe is not always made all at once: the majority of migrants remain in North Africa for different periods of time, often to earn more money to pay for the rest of the journey. The fees paid to criminals vary, depending on the point of departure and the points of destination.

The harsh search for a better life

Travelling from inland areas to coastal ports is a gruelling journey. From there, migrants are smuggled by boat to various locations in Europe.

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Smuggled migrants are often subject to grave human rights abuses. While they might initially agree to be smuggled into another country, the journey can turn into anything but a consensual one. During the trip, people might be squeezed into exceptionally small spaces in trucks or onto unseaworthy boats in order for smugglers to maximize their "cargo". Migrants might be raped or beaten en route or left to die in the desert. Once they reach their destination, many find that they or their families are the victims of blackmail or debt bondage.

The latter can involve migrants paying huge sums of money to criminals in order to settle near-impossible levels of debt out of fear of violence or fear of being deported by the authorities, which can result in them becoming victims of human trafficking. The smuggling of migrants and the activities related to it cost many people their lives and generate billions of dollars in profit for criminals.

They also fuel corruption - through the bribery of officials - and strengthen organized crime in the countries of origin, transit or destination. There is evidence suggesting that, with the ever-growing interdependence of the global economy, the involvement of criminal groups in the smuggling of migrants is on the rise. The smuggling of migrants has an impact on the countries of origin, transit and destination. In countries of origin, families go into debt in order to pay the smuggling fee, with no guarantee for a return on their investment. Even worse, they may be left with no news from their relatives, not knowing whether they are dead or alive, in prison or victims of trafficking.

In transit countries, smuggled migrants may become stranded with limited means of continuing their journey, or be deceived by smugglers.

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This places a heavy burden on the transit countries, particularly since migrants are usually from a different cultural background and may not understand the local language. Smugglers may also recruit for their criminal activities among local or migrant communities; thus, their illicit activity may have an impact on the areas along the routes they use. Attempting to intercept smuggled migrants and combat the crime places a significant strain on the resources of countries of destination. If countries lack the resources and legal framework to respond appropriately to the smuggling of migrants, the crime may continue unchecked.


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  4. The absence or inadequacy of national legislation to address the smuggling of migrants in many parts of the world often means that smugglers of migrants can continue to commit the crime with little fear of being brought to justice. Responses by States often target migrants, leaving smugglers, and especially organized criminal groups, which are more difficult to apprehend, at large.

    Only a limited number of States have specific policies and mechanisms in place aimed at countering the smuggling of migrants, and a lack of capacity to investigate and prosecute the crime means that criminal justice systems are often unable to meet the challenge of combating it. Beyond this, failure to secure smuggled migrants as witnesses means that prosecutions are often difficult and opportunities to convict are missed. Moreover, the smuggling of migrants is not always considered a serious crime for which a heavy penalty could be imposed.

    Ensuring that priority is given to investigating higher-level smugglers and taking due account of aggravating circumstances in the prosecution of cases involving the smuggling of migrants could have a deterrent effect on organized criminal groups. Moreover, organized criminal groups turn to smuggling of migrants only for the profit that it generates.

    For the Last Time, Here's the Real Link Between Immigration and Crime

    Following the money trail by launching financial investigations and freezing, seizing and confiscating assets, as well as looking for examples of money-laundering, could have a direct impact on such profits. Making the smuggling of migrants an unprofitable crime would discourage organized criminal groups from becoming involved in it.

    The smuggling of migrants is by nature a transnational crime, and the smugglers involved work in networks. Key to combating the smuggling of migrants, therefore, is the need to increase international cooperation, reinforce national coordination and ensure that the laws in the countries involved are harmonized in order to close loopholes. DHS is funded to identify, detain, and deport about , unauthorized immigrants annually. The current administration largely met that number in FY before tailoring its prosecutorial discretion guidelines to focus more fully on criminals and other public-safety threats, recent border crossers, and people with outstanding deportation orders.

    In addition, most of those targeted for removal will be eligible for an immigration court hearing. However, the immigration court system, an administrative system within the U.


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    Department of Justice, is already heavily overburdened. The immigration courts face a backlog of more than , cases, with an average wait nationally of days for a removal hearing. Even if Congress provides additional appropriations for deportations, DHS would still have to make enforcement choices in a world of limited resources. Given that reality, and the increasing delays in immigration proceedings, a larger-scale deportation initiative is unlikely to materialize quickly.

    Skip to main content. November Border Security. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

    Turning Migrants into Criminals Turning Migrants into Criminals
    Turning Migrants into Criminals Turning Migrants into Criminals
    Turning Migrants into Criminals Turning Migrants into Criminals
    Turning Migrants into Criminals Turning Migrants into Criminals
    Turning Migrants into Criminals Turning Migrants into Criminals
    Turning Migrants into Criminals Turning Migrants into Criminals
    Turning Migrants into Criminals Turning Migrants into Criminals
    Turning Migrants into Criminals Turning Migrants into Criminals
    Turning Migrants into Criminals

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