Last year criminal groups earned up to 6 billion dollars on the trafficking of those poor souls referred to as migrants. This revelation was made last January by the direction of Europol’s Rob Wainwright in his interview with The Independent. He has confirmed that illegal human trafficking can now contest illegal drug trade in terms of overall income that criminal syndicates are getting from it.
A joint report that has recently been published by Interpol and Europol notes that human traffickers made $6 billion from the wave of migration into southern Europe last year. Nine out of ten migrants and refugees entering the European Union in 2015 relied on “facilitation services,” mainly loose networks of criminals along the routes, and the proportion was likely to be even higher this year, the report said. About 1 million migrants entered the EU in 2015. Most paid 3,000-6,000 euros, so the average turnover was likely between 5 billion dollars and 6 billion dollars.
The main organisers came from the same countries as the migrants, but often had EU residence permits or passports. The basic structure of migrant smuggling networks includes leaders who coordinate activities along a given route, organisers who manage activities locally through personal contacts, and opportunistic low-level facilitators who mostly assist organisers and may assist in recruitment activities.
In 2015, the vast majority of migrants made risky boat trips in boats across the Mediterranean from Turkey or Libya, and then traveled on by road. Around 800,000 were still in Libya waiting to travel to the EU, with fraudulent documents rented out to migrants and then taken back by an accompanying facilitator. Migrant smuggling routes could be used to smuggle drugs or guns, and there was growing concern that militants could also use them to enter the EU. But there was no concrete data yet to suggest militant groups consistently relied on or cooperated with these organised crime groups.
The German Bild notes that criminal gangs are actively operating in refugee camps, like the one on the Greek-Macedonian border near the small town of Idomeni. Greek media sources note that such criminals are exploiting the desperate situation refugees have been caught up in, forcing them into the drug trade and prostitution. According to the Greek newspaper Eleftheros Typos, procurers are getting from 5 to 10 euros from a client leaving virtually nothing to the victimized women they exploit.
As it has recently been pointed out by the German Die Welt:
Police told [the newspaper] that the criminal clans are selectively recruiting in the refugee camps, and are on the lookout for” young and physically strong men “who are then used for” dirty work “such as burglaries, trafficking in drugs, and violence against competitors. According to authorities, there are between fifteen and twenty such clans in Berlin, most of whom came to the city in the later 1970s from Lebanon. “They control most of the organized crime,” the head of Criminal Investigation for the State Criminal Police Office, Dirk Jacob, told the newspaper.
Jacob said that they” demonstrate their power by carrying out mass daylight raids “on public events such as a recent attack on a poker tournament at the Hyatt Hotel and on the KaDeWe supermarket.
Additionally, European media is sounding the alarm that minors that came to Europe as refugees are being abducted en masse. So far authorities have been unable to trace the fate of thousands of children arriving in Europe. According to Interpol, up to 10,000 minors have disappeared without any trace since the beginning of the crisis, which suggests that criminal groups are on the hunt for them.
The German Der Spiegel reports that the Youth Department has been occupied with the accommodation of up to 60,000 minors that arrived in Europe unaccompanied. If in January of this year there were about 4,750 cases of disappearances of young refugees in Germany alone, in April this figure increased to 8,600 people, including hundreds of children under the age of 14. The children from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, Morocco and Algeria are getting abducted more often than other refugees. Europol experts say that the missing minors are more often than not falling into the hands of criminal gangs who are forcing them to pay debts for their transportation to Europe.
EU law enforcement agencies are convinced that illegal human trafficking is a rapidly growing multi-billion dollar business, which is being run by more than 40,000 members of various criminal networks, says the Financial Times. Europol has described a wide range of criminal activities, which have grown around the immigration crisis: forgery, bribes, sexual exploitation of minors, prostitution, and slave labor. In addition, organized crime exploits migrants in restaurants and underground workshops. In southern Italy local gangs have been exploiting migrant labor in agriculture.
As it has been noted by Atlantico, sometimes criminal groups cooperate with each other in their smuggling activities, when they hand over migrants to one another. Quite often they start arguing over the control of certain key areas, like parking lots in Belgium and the north of France, where migrants can catch trucks that are heading to different locations of Europe. Such arguments sometimes lead to armed clashes which negatively impacts the security situation in Europe.
However, according to many experts, the worst is yet to come. The situation in the southern Mediterranean gets more tense by the day. Conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya are gaining momentum. Other regional players are facing poor economic growth and an ever increasing number of threats to their national security. Such states like Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco have now been significantly weakened and thrown off balance.
The refugee crisis is beneficial not only for criminal syndicates and networks, since it is also being exploited by populist extreme right parties that enjoy close ties with organized crime groups. The so-called “banksters” are also taking advantage of this crisis, since they have been engaged in money laundering and they depend to a certain extent on the flow of illegal cash flowing into their pockets.
Under these conditions, the EU must take drastic steps to combat illegal migration and the crimes that are associated with it. Otherwise, the disastrous situation in Europe will get only worse. But are European officials fit for this job? And will the international community force them to address the situations instead of being engaged in useless political rhetoric? Only time will tell.
Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”