Smugglers now regularly use social media and smartphone apps to promote their services and promise migrants a safe passage to Europe. Their goal is to convince people that their services are, in fact, safe. 

The video below, for example, shows a WhatsApp conversation between a smuggler and some migrants who crossed on an inflatable boat from the Turkish city of Izmir to the Greek island of Chios. In message after message, the smuggler gives advice and directions to the immigrants.

The video also shows how the migrants were able to send updates of their location to the smuggler using the Mobizen app, which lets users make video recordings of their smartphone screens.

whatsapp vidéo passeur
The video put online by a smuggler on his Facebook account.

This smuggler posted his personal WhatsApp and Viber numbers and encouraged migrants who might use his services to contact him on Facebook Messenger.

The smuggler's Facebook account.
 
Successful crossings?

Other smugglers try to trick Facebook users into believing that the crossings are entirely safe. To do so, they publish videos of people who say they are former clients who managed to reach Europe.

Another smuggler, also hoping to reassure would-be migrants, posted a video (below) claiming that migrants were able to successfully cross from Izmir to Chios. In the video, one can see people wearing life vests and celebrating their arrival on the island, and thanking the smuggler who organised their crossing.
 
vidéo passeur

This smuggler gave the details of a typical crossing: “From Izmir to Chios, the cost of the journey is $650 per person. From the island to Athens, the cost is between 600 and 800 euros.”

Then he gives the details of an illegal trip by plane to Europe: “From Athens to Germany, the plane is 3,500 euros per person.”
 

On Facebook, this smuggler lays out the prices of his different services.

 
Private Facebook groups

There are also private groups where smugglers share information about crossing timetables and departure points, and where they post photos of the boats that will be used.
 
A boat supposedly used for migrants crossing the sea.
 
Another boat supposedly used by migrants for the crossing.

In addition to the smuggling networks, some pages offer fake papers and passports for fees that can go as high as 9,000 euros.


A Facebook page selling fake documents for migrants.


"Turkish authorities don't go after the admins of smugglers' Facebook pages"

According to the lawyer Ghazouan Kronfol, president of the Free Syrian Lawyers Association in Turkey: "The Facebook pages of smugglers are a window into the criminal exploitation of society."

The Facebook pages of smugglers are a window into the criminal exploitation of society. First, Turkish networks hire Syrian agents to lure potential migrants, most of whom come from Syria and Iraq. When the Turkish authorities clamp down, it is usually these Syrian intermediaries who are caught in their nets. It is difficult to catch the leaders of the networks.

But the Turkish authorities don’t go after the administrators of the illegal smugglers’ pages on Facebook, perhaps because they don’t have the necessary tools to closely follow the Arabic-language pages.


"I don't think the priority is to raise awareness amongst potential migrants about illegal immigration"

The Turkish authorities and the service fighting illegal immigration explicitly asked us, as civil society organizations, to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal immigration among Syrians residing in Turkey. We responded to their request by organising a series of conferences to inform Syrians of their rights and talk to them about the laws relating to their situation in Turkey. We also talked about the risk of drowning and about scams extorting large sums of money. But we do not know what impact the campaign has had.

I don’t think that the priority is to raise awareness among potential illegal immigrants about illegal immigration, but to offer them alternatives in Turkey. Job opportunities are limited, and Syrians don’t benefit from legal refugee status, only temporary protection. Their situation here is difficult, so they all want to go to Europe in the hope of a better life.

More generally, the implementation of the fight against human trafficking is dependent on the political climate between Turkey and Europe. Before the agreement on migrants between the European Union and Ankara there was no oversight. However, following the implementation of the agreement and the restrictions imposed by the authorities on the smugglers' activities, we have noticed a decrease in the number of illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, the trafficking has resumed lately.


Smuggling, a lucrative busines

In order to combat smuggling networks, the European Union created the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to manage the external borders of the EU member states. This agency focuses on the fight against illegal immigration and human trafficking.

With the arrival of more than a million migrants to Greek and Italian coasts last year, it is estimated that illegal smuggling networks earned more than 4 billion euros. According to Frontex, most of these gains are used to finance other illegal activities, such as weapons or drug trafficking. But the fight to eradicate smuggling networks is a complex one.

This article was written in collaboration with InfoMigrants.

Article written with
Dana Alboz

Dana Alboz , Journaliste arabophone / InfoMigrants.net