UNODC Report: The Role of Organized Crime in the Smuggling of Migrants from West Africa to the EU

UNODC released a report on 30 May: The Role of Organized Crime in the Smuggling of Migrants from West Africa to the European Union.  From the UNODC web page: “… The new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) investigates the involvement of organized criminal groups in the smuggling of migrants from West Africa towards the European Union (EU).  The involvement of organized crime in the smuggling of migrants is a sensitive and controversial issue in West African countries, as the report discusses at various points. The publication contributes to better understand the underlying mechanisms and actors involved in this criminal process as a basis for policy reforms in countries affected.

Information in the report was compiled by a team of researchers from West Africa and Europe using both documentary studies and field research conducted in Mali, the Niger, Nigeria and Spain. …  UNODC, as guardian of the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, possesses specific expertise and experience that could be put at the service of all countries affected to support them in matters linked to prevention, legislation, operations or prosecution.”

From the Report’s Summary:  “The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), through the European Union-funded ‘Law enforcement capacity-building to prevent and combat smuggling of migrants in the ECOWAS region and Mauritania (Impact)’, undertook to investigate the role played by organized criminal groups in the smuggling of migrants from West Africa to Europe.

The present report is aimed primarily at decision makers, law enforcement and judicial officials, but also at a wider audience interested in irregular migration. It contributes to a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms and actors involved in this criminal process as a basis for policy reforms in the West African countries concerned.  This report was prepared through desk and field research, conducted in Mali, Morocco, the Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Spain. Interviews were conducted with over 200 people in Africa and Europe belonging to three main groups: migrants, national authorities and non-governmental organizations, and smugglers.

Four main findings can be mentioned:

• Transnational organized criminal groups are generally involved in the smuggling of migrants from West Africa to Europe. However, there are important differences among them in terms of specialization and professionalism. With regard to trafficking in persons and the smuggling of non-African irregular migrants, criminal groups are clearly well organized and structured, and keep close contacts with operatives in several countries. On the other hand, other would-be migrants in West Africa have to deal with loose networks that are not permanently structured. Various groups of actors usually collaborate for one particular operation, and there are no exclusive relationships between those criminal groups.

• Specialization and the building of transnational criminal networks usually come as a result of increased efficiency in border interdiction. Within West Africa, freedom of movement gives little incentive, if any, to engage in the smuggling of migrants. However, the situation changes when there are natural obstacles, such as the sea, or man-made obstacles, such as surveillance

• In most cases, smugglers are migrants themselves. Realizing that their knowledge acquired through (often painful) experience may be used by other migrants in exchange for remuneration, some migrants decide to enter the business of smuggling of migrants. They may then become specialized professional smugglers, or they use their knowledge to finance the completion of their journey to Europe.

• Irregular migrants generally do not see themselves as victims, and smugglers do not see themselves as criminals. A complex relationship exists between irregular migrants and smugglers. The latter have an interest in maintaining the flow and feeding youngsters with dreams of success. These dreams are also kept alive in some West African countries by families and circles where important social value is attached to those who decide to leave, as well as by those who have made it to Europe, be it legally or illegally, even though their situation in Europe is often worse than it was at home….”

Click here for Report.

Click here for article on UNDOC web page.

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Filed under Analysis, Eastern Atlantic, European Union, Mauritania, Mediterranean, Morocco, Niger, Reports, Senegal, Spain, United Nations, UNODC

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