Europe is facing a humanitarian crisis as millions of migrants and refugees flee from war, persecution and poverty in their home countries. According to the UN refugee agency, more than 3,200 people died or went missing in 2021 while trying to cross the Mediterranean and the Atlantic to reach Europe. Since 2014, more than 29,000 migrants have lost their lives in these perilous journeys.
Many of these migrants rely on smugglers to facilitate their travel, often paying exorbitant fees and risking exploitation, abuse and violence. Smugglers operate in complex and transnational networks, using various methods to evade detection and launder their profits.
Africa and Asia are regions where smugglers use various routes to move migrants towards North and Southern Africa, Europe and the Middle East, or to wealthier countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific. Smugglers often exploit the vulnerabilities of refugees and asylum seekers who flee from conflict, persecution or natural disasters in their home countries.
Some smugglers use cash-intensive businesses, money service businesses, cash couriers, front companies and investments in goods to hide their illicit activities. Others use online platforms, social media and encrypted messaging apps to recruit and communicate with migrants.
The European Union and its member states have been struggling to cope with the influx of migrants and to find a common and humane response. The EU has tried to enhance border security, increase cooperation with third countries, relocate asylum seekers among member states, and support integration and return programs. However, these efforts have faced many challenges, such as political divisions, legal disputes, human rights concerns, public backlash and logistical difficulties.
The migrant crisis has also sparked debates about the role and responsibility of Europe in addressing the root causes of migration, such as conflicts, human rights violations, climate change and underdevelopment. Some experts and advocates argue that Europe should do more to support peacebuilding, development and humanitarian assistance in the regions of origin of migrants. They also call for more legal and safe pathways for migration, such as resettlement, family reunification, humanitarian visas and work permits.