The role of organized crime in the smuggling of migrants from West Africa to the European Union

30 May 2011

Irregular migration from Africa to Europe attracted much attention in the wake of dramatic events in 2005 around the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast and, more recently around Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island in the Mediterranean off the coast of Tunisia. Over the past years, media regularly reported the often deadly journeys undertaken by young African irregular migrants trying to reach Europe by crossing the Sahara desert or embarking on uncertain journeys in flimsy boats on the Atlantic Ocean or the Mediterranean Sea. This year, media attention on irregular arrivals on European shores rose in the context of uprisings in Maghreb countries and increased unrest in some West African countries, such as Côte d'Ivoire.

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. The report contains four key findings:

  • 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;
  • Specialization and the building of transnational criminal networks usually come as a result of increased efficiency in border interdiction;
  • In most cases, smugglers are migrants themselves; and
  • Irregular migrants generally do not see themselves as victims, and smugglers do not see themselves as criminals.

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.

 

Download

Full report: The role of organized crime in the smuggling of migrants from West Africa to the European Union

Download more Tools and Publications.

 

Related Information

Literature Review to discuss the Smuggling of Migrants into, through and from North Africa

Basic Training Manual on Investigating and Prosecuting the Smuggling of Migrants

UNODC and Smuggling of Migrants

Download more Tools and Publications.

UNODC News on Migrant Smuggling Subscribe to UNODC Migrant Smuggling (RSS Feed)

 

This publication was realized as part of the EU-funded project "Law enforcement capacity-building to prevent and combat smuggling of migrants in the ECOWAS region and Mauritania (IMPACT)"