People smugglers have benefited from European leaders’ failure to open up safe and legal routes for migrants to enter Europe, a new report from the Unravelling the Mediterranean Migration Crisis (MEDMIG) project has found.
All of the 500 migrants and refugees interviewed for the study told researchers they had used a people smuggler for at least one leg of their journey into Europe, with most saying they would have been unable to leave the country they came from safely without the assistance of a trafficker.
The report also found that one in 10 migrants had attempted to find a way of legally migrating to Europe – such as family reunification, applying for a study visa or joining a UN resettlement programme, but had failed to do so.
People smugglers are easy for refugees and migrants to find, according to the MEDMIG project, which noted that traffickers are deeply embedded in migrant social networks and the local communities immigrants travel from.
Many of the project’s interviewees said they experienced threats and violence from smugglers as they attempted to get to Europe, with some also claiming to have suffered abuse from other actors such as the police, state officials, the military, and militias.
Dr Franck Duvell, from the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS), which contributed to the report, said: “EU politicians and policy makers have repeatedly declared they are ‘at war’ with the smugglers and that they intend to ‘break the smugglers business model’.
“The evidence from our research suggests that smuggling is driven, rather than broken, by EU policy.
“The closure of borders seems likely to have significantly increased the demand for, and use of, smugglers – who have become the only option for those unable to leave their countries or enter countries in which protection might potentially be available to them.”
Separately, Amnesty International has accused Italian authorities of abusing asylum seekers as pressure from the EU to contain the crisis mounts. The rights group says Italy has been unlawfully expelling migrants, and in some cases subjecting them to ill-treatment and torture.
In a detailed report, Amnesty claims the EU-sponsored “hotspot approach” to processing migrants at the point of their arrival is undermining their right to claim asylum and fuelling abuse. According to the report, migrants are being exposed to sexual humiliation, electric shocks and beatings.
“In their determination to reduce the onward movement of refugees and migrants to other member states, EU leaders have driven the Italian authorities to the limits, and beyond, of what is legal,” said Amnesty’s Matteo de Bellis.
“The result is that traumatised people, arriving in Italy after harrowing journeys, are being subjected to flawed assessments and in some instances appalling abuse at the hands of the police, as well as unlawful expulsions.”