Home Theories How people migrate — 5. Smugglers   Final page (6. Traffickers)


How people migrate

Smugglers

Migrants who want to enter countries illegally may travel independently but many often use the services of smugglers.

Smugglers act as extra-legal travel agents - hiding people in trucks for example, or supplying false passports , or bribing immigration officials. This is a dangerous, but usually very profitable, business. Chinese smuggling gangs, for example are known as 'snakeheads'. For a journey to the United States they charge around $60,000; to the UK $45,000, or to Eastern Europe or Japan $12,000 most of which they require the migrants to repay from subsequent wages.

Mexican smugglers, operating along the 2,000-mile border with the United States, are known as 'coyotes'. Smugglers also try to get migrants into the United States by boat, particularly from Cuba and other Caribbean countries.

One of the easier ways to smuggle people into Europe is across its long land frontiers, using Central and Eastern Europe as transit areas. The other option is by sea. From North Africa this often involves the 12-mile trip across the Straits of Gibraltar - one of the world's most treacherous stretches of water. Other well-traveled sea routes into Europe are from Albania or Croatia to Italy. Some 200 high-powered speed boats ply the route from Vlore in Albania to Italy. For migrants who want to reach the United Kingdom, the English Channel is a final hurdle. A number of people have died in sealed in containers passing through the Channel Tunnel. Although most countries want to discourage unauthorized immigration, many eventually accept their presence through amnesty or legalization programmes.

In Asia and the Pacific, the borders tend to be more porous, so there is less need for physical smuggling. But for the more difficult countries, such as Japan, smugglers supply migrants with forged documents.

Overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean

An overloaded boat in the southern Mediterranean.
Photo: UNHCR / L. BOLDRINI / ITA