Who Are The Smugglers Transporting Migrants And Refugees?
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The chain of human smugglers stretches far, from Europe to the Middle East and Africa. Leonard Doyle is with the International Organization for Migration. I asked him who these smugglers are and how closely linked they might be.
LEONARD DOYLE: I mean, it's clearly organized when it comes to getting people over borders. But we don't think it's a kind of mass trans-European enterprise at the moment. But the sums of money involved are vast, and a lot of people are making a lot of money. And undoubtedly, there's corruption involved as well with the local authorities. But by and large, wherever fences are built, that's where smugglers thrive, and fences are being built in Europe.
SHAPIRO: You say there's a lot of money involved. If 250,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea this year, each of them pays thousands of dollars. Some rough, back-of-the-napkin arithmetic suggests that we're talking about enormous wealth going to someone.
DOYLE: Well, what's shocking, I think, is the transfer of wealth from already poor people to people who are supposedly giving a service but, in fact, aren't, in many cases
SHAPIRO: You say we're talking about a transfer of money from poor people to others. Who are those others? Are they wealthy? Are they opportunists? I was reporting in Turkey last week where many migrants told me it was the Mafia. It was the Turkish Mafia. Is that accurate based on your understanding?
DOYLE: Well, obviously it's going to be organized criminal gangs in whatever places that people are passing through. We know, for example, in Libya, which is a country in chaos at the moment, that they have a border guard armed with AK-47s. But we know that when the smugglers come through, they're bearing vast amounts of weaponry with them, and the border guards just go and have a cup of tea and get out of the way.
SHAPIRO: If you look at a place like coastal Turkey, where at least 1,000 people leave for Greece every night, is there someone at the top of that chain of command of smugglers, who is - I don't know - sitting in a luxury penthouse surrounded by bags of money?
DOYLE: I mean, my impression is that it's a bit like the drugs trade, that you have local opportunists who suddenly reap very, very rich rewards and probably hang onto those rewards in very brutal fashion. That's certainly the case that we're seeing, and we're seeing people taking the opportunity to extract wealth from very, very desperate people. They use things like Facebook pages. You know, there are tens of thousands of people following smugglers' Facebook pages, trying to find a better way out. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.
SHAPIRO: Some government leaders in Europe have suggested that the smugglers are really the root of the problem and that if the smugglers could be arrested, the problem would be, if not solved, at least not nearly as severe as it is. Do you think that's accurate?
DOYLE: I mean, you know, it's like freedom fighters. One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. When you're a family trying to escape from Syria and you face ISIL with a roadblock, you've got to use the services of a smuggler to get you over the mountains into Turkey. What is that person? Is that person just saved your life - is that a humanitarian, or is that a criminal?
Undoubtedly, there are times when that person is exploiting the vulnerable in overcharging or not looking after their safety, as we see the in case of the truck full of maybe 50 migrants outside Vienna today. So it's a mixed picture, and I think it's just sometimes politicians try and paint things in binary colors, and it's not like that. A smuggler can perform a heroic act just as quickly as they perform a dastardly act.
SHAPIRO: Leonard Doyle is with the International Organization For Migration in Geneva. Thanks very much for talking with us.
DOYLE: Most welcome - a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.