Organised crime is diversifying its activities as traditional drug smugglers are now expanding into the growing market of human trafficking, according to European Union police agency Europol.
Smuggling migrants across the Mediterranean is becoming big business as Italy saw its largest ever recorded number of migrants come into the country in 2016. According to Michael Rauschenbach, Director of the department for combating organised crime at Europol, smugglers make more money trafficking migrants than smuggling drugs and controlling prostitution rings, Deutsche Welle reports.
“We have specific information that dangerous criminals draw more and more profit from human smuggling,” Mr. Rauschenbach said Wednesday. He said that people smuggling had become “a very lucrative business” as the money involved was higher and the risks lower for organised criminal gangs.
The Europol department director noted the prices for smuggling migrants from North Africa, usually from Libya, to the coast of Italy had also gone up in recent years. One year ago, the cost for a migrant from a West African country to reach mainland Europe was between €3,000 and €5,000. Now, according to Rauschenbach, that amount may only cover one stage of the entire trip.
In 2016, Europol was able to determine and identify some 15,000 suspects who they believe are involved in the people trafficking trade. Some of the traffickers have been arrested in Italy, a number of them charged with some of the record numbers of drownings that have occurred over the past year on the Mediterranean.
Some of the captured traffickers, many who originate from Africa, have given authorities and the public a glimpse into the horrific world of people smuggling. One man, in particular, became infamous in Italy after authorities discovered images on his mobile phone which depicted organ harvesting from migrants who could not pay their smuggling fees and even in some cases, cannibalism.
The increased fees have put many of the migrants in a position of not being able to pay. For some who reach Libya it means returning back to West Africa, but for others, their fate can be much worse. Reports have shown that many children and women end up as sex slaves in Italy and as a result of the migrant crisis, thousands of prostitutes in the country have an African origin.
Drugs dealing is another way for migrants to pay back their debt and has become common not only in Italy but also in countries like Austria where police note a large number of street dealers in the capital of Vienna have a West African background.