On the dangerous implications of illegal migration

Sunday 22/05/2016

A just-released Europol-Interpol report dispels any doubt, if there was any, about the lucrative business that illegal migration provides to criminal networks. It also raises questions about the dangers of the problem.

According to the report: “Migrant smuggling is a highly profitable business entailing low overall costs… and persisting high demand for services.”

For 2015, the estimated turnover from migrant smuggling was $5 billion-$6 billion.

Migrant networks are well-organised. They provide “facilitation” to more than 90% of the migrants who enter Europe. They use modern technologies and social media to publicise routes, services and prices.

Smugglers are often involved in drug trafficking, document forgery, property crime and various forms of human trafficking. Through money laundering, they channel their revenues into the economies back home, which has a nefarious effect on many of the societies, the economies and even politics of countries in North Africa and the Middle East. It is at least partly to blame for the bloated informal economies of the region.

The modus operandi of the smugglers and the revenues they reap can benefit terrorist networks in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

The report warned that “illegal immigration routes and networks may be used by radicalised foreign fighters wishing to return to the EU or by terrorist organisations as a source of funding”.

The report does not elaborate on the tragedy of underage Arab migrants living precariously on the streets of European capitals. In a recent article, the Associated Press (AP) revealed how “thousands of underage migrants live in shadows across Europe”. About 90,000 asylum seekers in the European Union in 2015 were minors, a nine-fold increase in just three years.

The AP report depicted how young Arab and Muslim teenagers are drawn into drug trafficking or forced to accept illegal and exploitative labour to survive and send money back home.

Migrant smuggling to the European Union took a big blow in April along “the South Eastern route” through Greece or Bulgaria. Accord­ing to the European border agency Frontex, the number of migrants arriving on Greek islands dropped by 90% in April compared to the month before, mainly due to the Turkish-EU agreement reached in March.

Germany, which registered more than 1 million asylum seekers in 2015, is seeking to reduce the number. In May, the German lower house of parliament declared Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia “safe countries of origin”, which makes it easier to send Maghrebi asylum seekers back home.

“The Central European route” through Italy may become more active as the weather improves over the summer months.

In 2015, more than 150,000 illegal migrants, mostly Africans, used this pathway and about 800,000 people are reportedly waiting on Libyan shores for the opportunity to cross to Italy.

Europe’s migration crisis cannot be resolved by unilateral security or border control measures. There must be a long term-strategy that considers the need for socio-economic development, peace and stability south of the Mediterranean and Africa. Europe cannot be impervious to geography.

As UN envoy for human rights François Crepeau recently said: “I think there is a lack of vision at the EU level. There is no long-term human rights-based migration policy. We need a generational strategy of where we’d like to be in ten or 20 years.”