Migrant smuggling



Smuggling migrants now a billion dollar business NY Times, 25 July, 2022

With demand for smugglers on the rise, organized crime has moved in, with cruel and violent results

Carrizo Springs, Texas ...Fees typically range from $4,000, for migrants coming from Latin America, to $20,000, if they must be moved from Africa, Eastern Europe or Asia. For years, independend coyotes paid cartels a tax to move migrants through territory they controlled along the border and the criminal syndicates stuck to their traditional line of business, drug smuggling, which was far more profitable.

That began to change around 2019…The sheer number of people seeking to cross made migrant smuggling an irresistible moneymaker for some cartels… The enterprises have teams specializing in logistics, transportation, surveillance, stash houses and accounting — all supporting an industry whose revenues have soared to an estimated $13 billion today from $500 million in 2018… Migrants are moved by plane, bus and private vehicles. In some border regions, such as the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, smugglers affix color-coded bands to the wrists of migrants to designate that they belong to them and what services they are receiving.

[Smugglers] “are organizing the merchandise in ways you could never imagine five or 10 years ago”…. Previously, migrants entering Laredo, Texas, waded across the river on their own and faded into the dense, urban landscape. Now, according to interviews with migrants and law enforcement officials, it is impossible to cross without paying a coyote connected to the Cartel del Noreste, a splinter of the Los Zetas syndicate.


Smuggler fees Cent. Am. to USA $4,000-$10,000 (Rand Corp, Apr 2019 (pdf))

Nogales smuggler tunnels  (NY Times, 2 September, 2016)

Brazilians smuggled to South Florida  (Miami Herald, 29 Nov., 2015)

Under US-Mexico border  (NY Times, 31 October, 2013)





Close one route...smugglers find another (Economist, 26 October, 2019)

"Making it easier to get out of lorries is politically simpler

than making it easier to get into countries. It would also save lives."


Social media firms "enabling" "entrapment" by smugglers

(UN, IOM officials quoted in UK Independent, 29 December, 2018)


Britain's NCA, Difficulties of convicting smugglers (Economist, 18 June, 2016)


Operation Sophia: EU naval mission to stop people

smuggling "is not working"  (UK Independent, 13 May, 2016)

"While 80 boats have been destroyed, the sinkings have simply resulted in

smugglers switching from wooden crafts to even more dangerous dinghies, House of Lords report finds."  See also this BBC update (12 July, 2017)


Euro 10,000 for being smuggled from Macedonian border to Passau

(Die Zeit, 5 May, 2016  in German)


Barriers to Greece-Balkans corridor enable new opportunities for smuggling along alternate routes (NY Times, 12 March, 2016) 


Europol launches European Migrant Smuggling Center (Feb 2016)

Highlights from its February 2016 Report:

"In 2015, more than one million irregular migrants reached the EU," a volume five times higher than in 2014. As many as 90% of them used the services of "smuggling networks" at "some point during their journey." This generated between Euro 3-6 billion in revenues for the over 40 thousand individuals working in networks smuggling migrants to Europe. About half of payments from migrants in 2015 were collected in cash. On current trends, such smuggling activity and revenue is expected to increase further in 2016. Smuggling by air has been relatively infrequent, but is expected to grow as controls are tightened on land and sea routes. 


To Europe via Istanbul (Tages-Anzeiger, Zurich, 18 Nov, 2015, in German)
   At Istanbul's Aksary square, supply meets demand. Migrants can obtain life-jackets, warm  

     underwear and food for sea crossings, nearby overnight lodging (30 Euro) and forged passports.  

     Migrant smuggling services in Turkey take in an estimated $10 billion annually. For assistance   

     on sea and land routes to the EU, migrants pay 1000-2000 Euro. Air travel for smuggled

     refugees is the most sophisticated service. A forged German passport alone can cost Euro 8,000. Profits of trans-Mediterranean dealers in people (Tages-Anzeiger 12-Sep-15, in German)
   A total fee of $2,000-2500 is collected segment by segment, and derives mainly from friends

     and relatives in destination regions. One ship crossing can net smugglers $80,000. Four smuggler

     networks dominate the business and divide it. A northbound transit of Switzerland costs E 500.

Migrant smuggling in Europe worth billions (NY Times, 3 Sep., 2015) 

Hazards of at-sea transfers (Medit.) (NY Times, 21 Oct., 2014) 



  Smuggler fees Central America-USA $4,000-$10,000 (Rand Corp, April, 2019 (pdf))

  Nogales smuggler tunnels  (NY Times, 2 September, 2016)

  Brazilians smuggled to South Florida  (Miami Herald, 29 Nov., 2015)

  Migrant smuggling, Bay of Bengal  (Migration Policy Institute,  June, 2015)

  Haitians smuggled to Peru and Brazil  (Insightcrime, 21 June, 2014)

  Under US-Mexico border  (NY Times, 31 October, 2013)

    A “gamble with dangerous odds,” from a “self-perpetuating pyramid scheme with a proven ability to adapt.
  Migrant smuggling by air to Australia 


See also:UNODC 2018 Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants

UN anti-smuggling protocol

Scholarly background on smuggling: scroll down here

Migration in the news

Illegal immigration to USA

Help for contemporary refugees

Contemporary migration processes


 This page last updated 31-December-2022