The lucrative business of migrant smugglers

“The Golden Lion”, an enigmatic nickname for a man who works illegally. Behind this pseudonym hides an Albanian, professional in smuggling migrants between France and Great Britain. After an investigation carried out in northern France, the journalists from Daily mail discover that his nefarious dealings carried out in broad daylight on the streets of Dunkirk would net him more than a million euros a week. This exorbitant sum is in fact only a drop in the ocean of the billions of euros brewed every year by the migrant smugglers’ subsidiaries.

Up to 10,000 euros to cross the channel

In its special report for 2021, Europol notes that migrant smuggling “is one of the most lucrative businesses for organized crime groups.” It is even the second source of illicit enrichment after drug trafficking. Purchasing small boats– inflatable boats used by migrants to cross the seas – in China, exploitation of low-cost labor, doubling of services offered, abusive prices… While 90% of irregular migrants have no choice but to turn to them, migrant smugglers know how to to take advantage of a sector that has grown rapidly since 2015. To cross the Channel aboard a makeshift boat, migrants must pay a small fortune. If the “golden lion” “only” asks for 4,500 euros per person, others do not hesitate to demand up to 10,000 euros per migrant. In the Mediterranean, Europol’s services are subject to similar tariffs. In this region of the world, at a rate of 2,500 euros per migrant, pickpocketing human traffickers nearly 200 million euros a year, just for the crossing. Then add the cost of false papers, accommodation or transport. Faced with high costs, some migrants have no choice but to work for their smugglers before they can hope to board. Overall, migrant smuggling would therefore generate more than $7 billion, according to the UN.

But the smugglers’ business often does not stop there. According to the European Commission, “Around 50% of the networks involved in migrant smuggling are polycriminals who also deal in people smuggling, drug trafficking, arms trafficking or even money laundering “. While some small hands in migrant smuggling draw modest incomes, other members of large mafias generate significant profits.

A booming market

But this successful business, done because of the misery of people striving for a better life, doesn’t seem ready to stop. For example, according to the British authorities, the number of Channel crossings is constantly increasing. In 2018, 300 migrants landed on the English coast. Three years later they were 28,500. In this first half of 2022, 15,000 crossings have already been attempted in small boats. More generally, the number of irregular entries increased by 82% from January to June 2022, according to the Frontex agency. Moreover, far from discouraging candidates for emigration, the channels of illegal migration create a breath of fresh air. In fact, smugglers hold the promise of a better future and offer the opportunity to cross borders secretly. Many migrants would certainly prefer to stay at home if they knew in advance the conditions of their exploitation by these smugglers.

Despite the dismantling operations carried out by police services across Europe, the market for smugglers is far from withering away. In this highly competitive field, when one network shuts down, another immediately takes over. If the authorities do not address the problem, the smugglers therefore have nothing to worry about for their future.

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