It is easy to think that with over 60,000 mobility restrictions imposed over the world during the pandemic, it would be more difficult for smugglers to continue operating. Believing that such restrictions and the existence of the pandemic would deter smuggling activities is a far-reaching notion. Migrants continue to seek different routes to get to their dreamland while smugglers continue to take on interested migrants to try and smuggle them across borders.
Smuggling hasn’t changed but the cost solicited by smugglers to migrants has. The smuggling fee has increased amid stricter cross border movement installed by countries to reduce and curb the spread of the pandemic. The situation has made countries focus more on smuggling routes as a strategy to completely lockdown the pandemic spread from illegal migration.
The Cost of “Freedom”
Migrants are paying more to smugglers for bypassing the stricter restriction to get them into the new lands. The quest for a better life or better opportunities has increased land and sea smuggling even under the more dangerous conditions.
The increase in land and sea smuggling is attributed to the reduction of air travel during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, travel and restriction of movement has not deterred people from fleeing regions of conflict.
At the onset of increased travel restrictions in March, 64 Ethiopian migrants were found dead from asphyxia at the back of a truck in a shipping container. In Libya, after the subsequent easing of migrant flows, smugglers in the region are seeing new customers from neighbouring countries. Even migrants from distant countries like Nigeria, Eretria, Ghana, and Mali have been seen trying to cross from Libya after the easing of migrant flows.
The Situation at Hand
Migrants are not deterred from facing their fears and taking riskier journeys. However, the strict rules and closed border crossings have led to the heavy reliance of smugglers. The reliance is eminent from their looking for new smuggling routes task and monitoring border management to evade border controls.
Smuggling journeys have become more costly and difficult given the challenging conditions that migrants are subjected to. For some, the high smuggling costs cause them to attempt border crossing on their own. The ordeal makes it harder and dangerous for the migrants because they do not know the lay of the land as the smugglers do. They are also more vulnerable to traffickers who take advantage of their situation.In some cases, smugglers would abandon migrants without enough money and leave them at the mercy of human traffickers.
Difficult smuggling operations have led to smugglers using smaller boats that are less seaworthy to avoid detection. Using alternative and dangerous trade routes has made the chances for surviving the entire trip even slimmer for the migrant. An increase of the coronavirus pandemic especially in troubled nations accustomed to illegal migration is likely to increase the smuggling activity as more migrants seek to travel to safer regions.
Written by contributor Victor Kanake. Source: Relief Web