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Seven key trends of migrant smuggling to Europe

  • Europe as destination

Shifting the perspective from origin to destination, Europe is a key destination area, attracting smuggled migrants from many countries and areas. The citizenships of migrants smuggled to Europe vary according to the smuggling route and destination country. Those who arrive in Italy by sea, via the Central Mediterranean route, are mainly from Africa (89 per cent); mostly West Africa. An even larger share of maritime arrivals in Spain, via the Western Mediterranean route, are African (94 per cent); again, mainly West Africans but also a sizable share of North Africans. Sea arrivals in Greece, through the Eastern Mediterranean route, have different citizenship profiles, however. Most of these smuggled migrants are from Afghanistan, the Syrian Arab Republic and other Middle Eastern countries (85 per cent); reflecting the relative geographical proximity of the key origins and destinations.

  • Profile of migrants

Along the Central Mediterranean route, most smuggled migrants are from the Horn of Africa and West Africa. Along the Eastern Mediterranean route, many people from South-West Asia, mainly the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as Afghans and Iraqis. Most of those using the Western Mediterranean route are West Africans, plus Syrians and Moroccans. Most of the smuggled migrants are men.

  • Smuggling hubs

In Europe, many of the smuggling hubs for ‘secondary movements’ within the European Union are major cities or capitals. However, some smaller cities also serve as smuggling hubs, usually due to their location close to a widely used border crossing point.

  • Statistics on smuggling of migrants

Overall, it appears that about 370,000 migrants were smuggled by sea into the European Union in 2016. Based on these figures, a conservative estimate of the smuggling business along all sea smuggling routes for the year 2016 ranges between US$320 million and US$550 million.

It is more difficult to assess the magnitude of migrant smuggling along the EU land borders. The number of detections of irregular entries is very low (1,350 detected in 2016 through the EU Eastern borders), which would seem to indicate that these smuggling flows are limited, compared to the sea smuggling routes. However, it appears that smuggled migrants making use of land routes often avoid detection.

Migrants are also smuggled to major airports in Europe using fraudulent documents. While this method does require smuggler activity, many migrants who are smuggled are probably going undetected. About 4,400 people were detected at EU airports with false travel documents in 2016. It is not possible to estimate how many others managed to cross the border and avoid detection.

  • Prices on smuggling services

Smuggling fees change significantly according to a range of factors including distance, region, mode of transportation, border controls, difficulty of the border crossing and other factors. Smugglers operate much like legal entrepreneurs and charge different fees for different services. Usually, the higher the price, the higher the probability of a successful smuggling service. At the same time, a steep price does not guarantee a safe and successful smuggling passage, despite the smuggler’s promises.

One example of how smugglers use different prices for different services can be found along the Eastern Mediterranean route. The price for the journey from Turkey’s coasts to any of the Greek islands ranges from €900 up to €7,000.

  • Curious patterns

Since 2014, Europe has seen a significant increase in the number of arrivals of irregular migrants and refugees compared to the first few years of this decade. Europol has reported that more than 90 per cent of irregular migrants use facilitation services – usually migrant smugglers - at some point during their journey to Europe.

There are currently three major smuggling routes into Europe. The Central Mediterranean route departs from North Africa, most commonly Libya, and arrives in Italy, usually in Sicily. The Eastern Mediterranean route connects the Turkish coast to various Greek islands, and the Western Mediterranean route departs from Morocco and arrives in Spain, either by sea or overland. The Western Mediterranean route has consistently seen the lowest arrival numbers. The years 2016 and 2017 saw a stark decrease compared to the year 2015.

The three Mediterranean routes dominate, but migrant smuggling also occurs elsewhere in Europe. Irregular entries are reported through the European Union’s eastern borders every year, although it is difficult to determine how many of those are facilitated by migrant smugglers. In 2016, some 1,350 irregular border crossings were detected along the Eastern Borders route.

Over the last few years, official detections of migrants smuggled by air into the European Union using false travel documents have ranged between 3,500 and 7,000 per year, with a declining trend since 2013.

  • The Black Sea route

A few migrants are smuggled from Turkey across the Black Sea to Romania and Bulgaria. Although the numbers are small, the interception of six boats carrying nearly 600 smuggled migrants between January and mid-September 2017 could be an indication that smugglers are trying to revive this route. Most of the smuggled migrants aboard the boats that were detected in 2017 were Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis.

The full report is available at the following link.


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