Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants
The UNODC Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants provides a knowledge base on migrant smuggling in different regions.
The Observatory is a UNODC Research project.
The research findings are intended to inform responses, as per the international Smuggling of Migrants Protocol:
  • to prevent and combat smuggling of migrants
  • to promote cooperation among States on counter-smuggling
  • to protect the rights of smuggled people

Key Findings on Smuggling Routes
To access the analysis, click on the smuggling routes below (more routes will be covered soon!)

NORTHWEST AFRICAN (ATLANTIC) ROUTE

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FOCUS ON MIGRANT SMUGGLING FROM NIGERIA

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WEST AFRICA, MOROCCO AND WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN

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WEST AND NORTH AFRICA AND CENTRAL MEDITERRANEAN

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© UNODC / Yasser Rezahi

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WEST AND NORTH AFRICA AND CENTRAL MEDITERRANEAN KEY FINDINGS

1. COVID-19 has not halted smuggling of migrants in West and North Africa and the Central Mediterranean, with more people arriving in Italy during 2020-2021 compared to 2019.

2. The groups of people being smuggled across the Central Mediterranean have changed. From a majority of West Africans prior to 2019, the majority are now North Africans, as well as Bangladeshis.

3. Smugglers in West Africa tend to operate only at one border, and make opportunistic connections with other actors, while smugglers operating in Libya are more sophisticated, with higher involvement of transnational organized crime.

4. Smugglers are commonly paid in cash, in advance of each leg of an irregular journey, with the Central Mediterranean sea crossing always paid separately from smuggling by land.

5. A key role of migrant smugglers in this context is paying bribes on behalf of people on the move, with payments made to state and non-state actors.

6. Demand for smuggling arises from people’s strong motivations for migration, combined with a lack of access to legal pathways for travel. Obstacles to exercising free movement rights and safety concerns also contribute to smuggling demand in West Africa.

7. Regular and irregular movements are interlinked, so some travel facilitators enable regular border crossings and regular stay, while others commit migrant smuggling offences.

8. Rights violations of smuggled people are prevalent on these routes, particularly in Libya. When they are perpetrated by smugglers, deprivation of liberty, trafficking in persons and sexual and gender-based violence constitute aggravated smuggling offences, yet in most cases the perpetrators are actors other than the smugglers themselves.


Click here to open the StoryMap and access all of the key findings, interactive maps and graphs, statistics, infographics, case studies and research methodology!
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WEST AFRICA, MOROCCO AND WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN

1. Most people smuggled by land to Morocco enter from Algeria, with West and Central Africans having reached Algeria through Mali or Niger. Some are then smuggled to Spain by land or sea across the Western Mediterranean.

2. Compared to the Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes, the proportion of people smuggled is lower on the Western Mediterranean, with many people travelling independently.

3. Over 16,300 people used this sea route in 2021 (as of 11.2021); 63% were Algerians, 29% Moroccans and the rest Sub-Saharan Africans.

4. Smugglers operating in West and Central Africa, Algeria and Morocco comprise small groups of loosely connected people or individuals, active only at specific border crossing points.

5. Refugees and migrants contact smugglers in North Africa through members of their communities. “Chairmen” (community leaders) refer them to smugglers and/or intermediate temporary work on farms, in mines, and domestic work. Some of these referrals, often carried out in exchange for a fee, also present elements of trafficking in persons.

6. The involvement of transnational organized criminal groups is less common, though non-state armed groups active in the Sahel profit indirectly from migrant smuggling by extorting fees for passage.

7. Profits from migrant smuggling on these routes are limited, with many refugees and migrants paying less than US$1,300 in total for smuggling within Africa. The sea crossing is paid separately, and generally costs US$1,300-2,800.

8. People risk their lives crossing deserts, sand berms and the sea, with increasing numbers of people dying during 2020-2021. Smuggled people are also at risk of deprivation of liberty, extortion, trafficking, and physical violence, perpetrated by armed groups, state authorities, smugglers, “chairmen” and other criminals.


Click here to open the StoryMap and access all of the key findings, interactive maps and graphs, statistics, infographics, case studies and research methodology!
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