Sahan's Reports

Disrupting the Finances of Criminal Networks Responsible for Human Smuggling and Trafficking

15 September, 2021

Executive Summary

Over the last two years, human traffickers and smugglers in East and North Africa have shifted their

business models in response to efforts to contain migration flows to Europe, resulting in notable shifts in migration patterns. At the same time, the European Union (EU) has deepened its understanding of how human smugglers and traffickers use money laundering and other illegal financial means to advance their work. It is also investing in combating money laundering, as well as building the capabilities of the Inter Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and East African Community (EAC) member states to gather evidence, share cases, and prosecute transnational criminal networks through training and collaborative efforts. The evolution of both the criminal networks and the efforts of the EU, IGAD and EAC have evolved in parallel with each other, often in a mutually influential relationship.

High level agreements and efforts to deter migration from Libya have had significant impact. The routes previously used for migration out of Africa have shifted, and new ones (most significantly via Niger, Algeria and Turkey) have emerged. In this context, two main developments have occurred in relation to irregular migration and criminal networks.

Firstly, whereas in 2017 there were widespread reports of migrants (including asylum seekers)1 being treated as ‘captive travellers’ or ‘slaves’, in 2018 there are increased reports of migrants and refugees being treated as commodities or collateral. Over the past two years, they have become victims of even more violent and exploitative treatment at the hands of human traffickers. They are routinely held hostage and aggressively tortured for ransom and sold across several criminal networks in a cyclical exchange. Indeed, while the number of migrants coming to Italy sharply dropped in 2018 (BBC 11 September 2018), the number of migrants in known Libyan detention centres nearly doubled from 5,000 to 9,300 between 2017 and 2018 (Mixed Migration Centre Aug. 2018). The actual figures of human trafficking victims are likely to be much higher.

Secondly, smuggling and trafficking networks are evolving. Not only have they have broadened their reach, they have also deYcriminalised many aspects of their smuggling business mode, employing increasingly legal mechanisms to work from West Africa, Turkey and Europe. Today, the smuggling of humans relies less on clandestine movement, and more on ‘commercial travel’.

Efforts to combat illicit financial transactions linked to trafficking and smuggling from Africa are still at an early stage. At this time, national Financial Investigation Units (FIUs) have just begun to address these types of financial transactions. Governments and investigators are constrained by a number of factors, including: the lack of financial data; limited human and investigative resources; a lack of awareness or concern from public authorities and the private sector; weak legal frameworks and corruption; and limited domestic, regional and international cooperation and information sharing. Large sections of the criminal networks’ topology remain superficially documented and analysed, while international organisations often still use outdated data to map the main criminal networks.

In this context, relying on financial institutions, law enforcement and prosecution resources without further integration, information sharing including with other stakeholders, is not enough to make a significant impact in the fight against organised criminal networks. Most donors are investing in providing technical assistance on AMLYCFT, mainly consisting of training and “Training the Trainers” approaches, with their limitations. The EU AMLYCFT programme is also training FIUs, as are the Danish government and UNODC. However, much more engagement is needed with law enforcement, intelligence and in some instances with the military. Financial Investigations Units, prosecutors, judges, civil society organisations, including human rights activists, private entities, banks and financial institutions also need similar training and a platform for collaborative action.

Copyright: IGAD Security Sector Programme (ISSP) and Sahan Foundation

The Research and Evidence Facility (REF) Consortium is comprised of: SOAS University of London, The University of Manchester, and Sahan

Date: 01 February 2019

Read full report here

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *