Brazen Smuggling Business Profiting From Fleeing African Migrants

Refugees in plastic boats

By: Charmaine Santos

Libyan militias, tribesmen, and bandits are responsible for the deaths of over 1,000 Italy-bound migrants in the Mediterranean in just the last two weeks. A number of armed groups in Libya are advertising their services of boat transport to people in search for a better life by presenting the economic collapse in Libya as the perfect opportunity to escape conflict and secure safe transport. However, these boats are highly unsafe and these armed groups are setting innocent people afloat on what is known to be the deadliest migrant route in the world.

Tribes often battle for control of profitable routes. U.S. officials state that Tuareg men have kidnapped Europeans, sold them tothe jihadist militia al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, then worked as mediators to ransom them. Mustapha Orghan, an activist that has tracked their operations, say that tribes like the Tuaregs smuggle goods, including African migrants who get sold from one smuggler to another. An African migrant named Ismail has recently attempted to cross the sea three times but could not due to overcrowding and the deterioration of cheap plastic boats. Syrians who aren’t discriminated by Arab smugglers and can often pay more, however, typically cross the sea in wooden boats that are sturdier.

Despite the arrests of over 1,000 smugglers since the beginning of 2014, officials in Europe and Libya claim that it is difficult to make substantial progress in stopping this brazen business due to the collapse in Libya and the race by militias and tribes to obtain money in order to fuel conflict. Libya, according to Col. Mohamed Dindi of the Libyan Coast Guard, is not the only country with this problem. Sudan, Chad, Greece, as well as Italy also have to deal with risky transport. Migrant aid groups claim that Europe should establish “safe and legal channels” where refugees could request asylum from their home countries in order to discourage migrants from putting their lives in smugglers’ hands.

Charmaine Santos is a sophomore at the University of San Francisco pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Biology as well as minors in Chemistry and Health Studies. She volunteers alongside UCSF medical students at a student-run homeless clinic in San Francisco and is also an active volunteer with Operation Access. Charmaine is also a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.

Stevis, Matina. (2015, April 20). “Rich Smuggling Trade Fuels Deadly Migration Across Mediterranean.” Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 26, 2015 from

Photo Credit: (Frontex)










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