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Involvement of the Organised Crime in the Trafficking in Migrants -- Reinhard Lohrmann

Involvement of the Organised Crime in the Trafficking in Migrants

Hanni Heikkinen and Reinhard Lohrmann,

International Organisation for Migration

October 1998

Introduction 1

Typology of trafficking 2

International criminal organizations 4

The attractiveness of migrant trafficking 6

Conclusion 7

References: 7

Annex : The activities of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) related to migrant trafficking 9


The stock of international migrants (foreign born persons) worldwide in 1998 is estimated being 130 million, which is close to 2 percent of the world population. Every year at least 10 million persons move to other countries because of extreme poverty, risk of persecution, or becoming a victim of civil or international war. Millions more would like to migrate to other countries with a view to improving their economic or social situation. At the same time the migration policies and regimes of many receiving countries have become more selective and restrictive, leaving little possibilities for people to migrate legally. Given these conditions, an increasing number of persons try to enter receiving countries illegally. In a growing number of cases the services of traffickers are sought in order to bring emigrants across international borders (IOM, 1998b).

There is evidence that such trafficking has grown significantly in the 90s and become an increasingly global business. Also highly organised trafficking networks that have previously been involved with other criminal activities are suspected to have moved into the field of migrant trafficking (IOM 1994). Indeed, taking advantage of the technological change in the information sector and the mobility that comes along with the advancing transportation, it has been possible for criminal organisations to extend their activities internationally and maximise their profit (Nigoul, 1998).

Althought such claims of the involvement of criminal organizations are widely presented, there exists hardly any research on the topic. There is especially a lack of research that shows the actual evidence of the activities of international criminal organizations involved in migrant trafficking. The purpose of this paper is to discuss what is currently known about international organized crime and its involvement in migrant trafficking.

Typology of trafficking
According to the definition proposed by the International Organisation for Migration (1994), three types of traffickers can be distinguished. First, there are so called amateur smugglers, that occasionally earn money by providing transportation to irregular migrants taking them across an international border or providing transportation within a country. These activities usually take place in border regions, such as between USA and Mexico, or the Northern and Southern states of the Mediterranean Sea. The traffickers are often local owners of boats, taxis or trucks. For them trafficking is a minor source of income and is rather spontaneous and occasional. For example, hundreds of Africans and Moroccans without valid identity papers and entry permits try to enter Italy or Spain with the help of local traffickers. A rather typical case was a Moroccan naval vessel picked up by Spanish police in May this year carrying 11 would-be illegal immigrants from Morocco. Each passenger had paid between 4 000 and 8 000 dirhams (between 415 and 830US$) to the owner of a boat, who was a local fisherman (Reuters, 11 May 1998).

Second, there exist small groups of well-organized criminals that are specialized in some specific routes through which to smuggle migrants from one country to another. (IOM, 1994). A gang of nine Eastern Europeans was sentenced to prison this year in Belgium for smuggling illegal immigrants into Britain through the Belgian ports of Zeebruges and Ostend. They had smuggled 120 immigrants (Eastern Europeans, Asians and Africans) into England over a five-month period (Reuters, 25 May 1998).

The third group of migrant traffickers according to the definition given by the International Organisation for Migration, is the well-organized criminal groups that form international trafficking networks. These international criminal groups are more complex and more organised than the ones mentioned earlier, but there is not much evidence and proof of their actual involvement in the migrant trafficking. It is said, however, that those international groups are often involved also with various other criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, money laundering, document counterfeiting and therefore, the routes used for migrant trafficking may have already been tested by trafficking other illegal goods. This is why internationally organized criminal groups are able to provide services, such as stolen or altered identity documents, supply housing during the trip and support the irregular migrants in the countries of destination. Because of this international aspect they are very flexible and therefore particularly difficult to control (IOM, 1994).

According to Phil Williams (1994), ìtransnationalî criminal organizations are diverse in structure, outlook and membership. Nevertheless, they have something in common: they are highly mobile, adaptable and especially, they are able to operate across national borders with great ease.

James O. Finckenauer (1998) argues, that organized criminal activity is not synonymous with organized crime. Criminal activities, such as migrant trafficking, can be organised without involvement of international criminal organisations. `Crime that is organized` may be highly complex, may operate for long periods of times and require sophisticated arrangements. However, as Finckenauer notes, after the criminal activity is carried out, the organized structure that supports it may be dissolved. In contrast to this, international criminal organisations continue to exist after the actual criminal activity. Another typical character, according to Finckenauer, is that they tend to be active in multiple criminal activities at the same time.

In research carried out in 1996, Finckenauer did not find evidence of the involvement of the Russian organised crime in migrant trafficking, nor in Russia nor in the United States†: ´††As is true with their other criminal endeavors, the Russians, according to the INS, are not now entrenched in alien smuggling activities, but their potential for becoming so is very great†ª(ibid.). However, in 1998 (The Irish Times 2 June), Europol is convinced that the Russian mafia is involved in the migrant trafficking business as will be discussed later in this paper.

A valid example of the involvement of an international criminal group was reported in 1997 by the Spanish police. It identified an international smuggling ring and arrested five Chinese. The illegal immigrants first travelled with the help of traffickers from China to Thailand or Singapore using false passports of these countries and then further to Germany, France or Spain. Some continued to the USA or Canada with Japanese passports. Those heading towards Britain used Singaporean travel documents. The criminal gang had provided it`s services for 500 Chinese clandestine migrants, which each had to pay a fee of US$30 000 (Migration News Sheet, November 1997).

Based on the foregoing, the definition for international criminal organisation used in this paper is as follows†: international criminal groups are mobile, well organised internationally, adaptable and can be involved in multiple criminal activities in several countries. They can operate for long periods of time as they operate in a variety of single criminal activities, which exposes them less to the risk of sudden discontinuation of all their activities.

International criminal organizations
It has been often suspected that international criminal organisations have emerged in recent years. According to Williams (1994), the change has taken place during the last twenty years and is partly a result of the changes in global politics and economics. The increased interdependence between nations, the ease of international travel, transportation and communications and the globalisation of international exchange of goods and services and financial networks have facilitated a world wide market for both licit and illicit commodities. Therefore, as Williams notes, along with the globalisation of trade, it is only natural that criminal organisations are becoming increasingly transnational in character. The trade of illicit drugs has become a global phenomenon. It is estimated that there is more money earned in the drug trafficking industry than in the global trade in oil (ibid.).

The trafficking of illegal immigrants is one of various activities of international criminal groups and it has become one of the spectacular growth industries of the nineties. An estimated seven billion dollars are earned world-wide in the trafficking business per year (IOM, 1998).

Alberto Bradanini, a special assistant at the United Nations Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP) expressed his concern in the Asian ministerial meeting in Manila this year†: ´†Experience has shown that in times of economic distress, organised crime groups will tend to make use of a changing environment. The current economic and financial turmoil in Asia could be an additional opening for organised crime†ª(Reuters, 23 March 1998). A Ukrainian criminologist Michail Adamovic Lebed, is similarly convinced of a marked change in the global migration (1998)†: ´†Thus migration processes are becoming more and more criminalised†; they are under the influence of criminal gangs and are increasingly taking on an organised character. ´†

Governments also suspect increasingly that international criminal organisations, that have earlier been specialiced in smuggling of drugs have now turned to also smuggle illegal migrants. For example, the British Immigration Minister Mike O`Brien stated, in November 1997†: ´†Vast profits are being made. We have got evidence that those who have been trafficking in heroin are now trafficking in people because of the profits there are to be made.†ª He also mentioned, that there is increasing evidence that organised crime is behind much of illegal migration and also, that there is evidence of links with the Russian mafia as well as organised crime groups from China, Colombia and Nigeria (CISNEWS, November 1997).

Quite often, international crime organizations and small-scale local organizations are mixed up in the media and even in some studies. In many cases, newspapers tend to refer to the existence of criminal organizations without actual prove. Therefore claims for involvement of international crime organizations in the migrant trafficking need to be questioned. What are the facts and the evidence that proves it?

Growing flows of trafficked migrants and policy response

The flow of illegal immigrants to Britain and Ireland through the port of Dover has increased enormously in 1998. According to The Times (6.8.1998), the number of discovered illegal immigrants in Dover has risen fivefold in 1998, about 550 trafficked migrants have been found every month in sealed containers. According to some newspapers, organized criminal gangs are behind these activities. The London Evening Standard wrote on 5 August 1998: ìThese are the illegal immigrants who have been flushed out from juggernauts, coaches, transits and camper vans, having paid an average £2000 a head to gangs of organized criminals on the continent who bribe drivers to smuggle them across on ferries.î Europol assures that criminal organizations are involved in these actions. The Deputy Head of Europol, Dr Willy Bruggeman has told the press in May 1998 that at least two Romanian gangs in Germany and the Netherlands are involved in smuggling Romanians across Europe into Ireland. According to him the Russian mafia is also involved in the trade (The Irish Times, 2 June 1998).

In reaction to the growing inflow of illegal immigrants, a new unit was set up in the U.K. in 1997 to combat criminal organizations involved in smuggling of illegal immigrants to the country. The new unit is based at the London headquarters of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) and is assisted by the Secret Service. The number of cases of organised illegal immigration in U.K. has been estimated to have risen from about 60 in 1991 to almost 700 in 1996 (IOM†:Trafficking in Migrants-bulletin, December 1997/January 1998)

In Canada, the government is developing a national strategy to fight organized crime. According to a study that was released in August 1998, the impact of organised crime is wider than traditionally estimated†: ´†The impact of migrant trafficking on Canada is estimated at between Canadian $120 million to $400 million per year and accounts for approximately 8,000 to 16,000 people arriving in Canada per year illegally†ª†(Porteous, 1998).

According to Williams, (1994) Chinese criminal organisations in the United States have superseded the mafia as the most important criminal group. Their criminal activities include money laundering, gambling, heroin smuggling and theft of computer chips, but they have also been active in smuggling illegal immigrants into the US. They use a variety of routes through which they smuggle illegal immigrants to the USA as well as to several other countries. For example, some illegal immigrants have been taken through Frankfurt, London, Caracas, Panama and Montreal before arriving to New York, alternative routes have gone through Vancouver and Toronto. The fare paid to traffickers has been between $15,000 and $30,000. Thus trafficked illegal immigrants have worked as drug courriers or become involved in other criminal activities to be able to pay the traffickers (ibid.).

According to a forthcoming study by International Organisation for Migration that surveyed Thai women having worked in the sex industry in Japan (1998), there was not evidence of the direct involvement of international criminal organisations in Thailand in bringing women from Thailand to Japan. Local traffickers seem to arrange for this. However, Jakuza, a Japanese crime organisation, which is said controlling the sex industry and prostitution, controlled women in these activities. In a survey studying Filipino women who were trafficked to Japan, 46 women of the 100 interviewed reported that their employers were involved with crime syndicated such as the Yakuza (IOM, 1997).

The attractiveness of migrant trafficking
But what is it, that makes migrant trafficking so attractive to organised crime†? Firstly, organised crime bases its enterprises on economic principles†; the primary factor is the market`s demand for services. It is clear, that the market potential is huge. Considering the limited possibilities for legal entry, illicit ways to enter to country of destination is often the only possibility for individuals wishing to migrate. The activities of organised criminal groups are based on the equation of the cost of providing a service, factoring the risk and calculating profit. In migrant trafficking, the cost of providing the infrastructure for the service is minimal, the risk is low and the potential profits are high.

†Therefore, instead of only responding to the demand for their services, traffickers have an incentive to actively seek out their own clientele and to encourage migrants to opt for their services. Thus in many cases it is the traffickers rather than those being trafficked who select trafficking routes and destinations countries (IOM, 1998a).†

Secondly, migrant trafficking is attractive to organized crime because of the alleged low risk of sanctions compared to e.g. penalties for drug smuggling or trade. Therefore, it can be an extremely productive activity without major risks (Savona, di Nicola, da Col, 1998). However, as for the sanctions, they vary a lot in different countries but are generally becoming stricter. Typically, the maximum penalties for migrant trafficking range from two to five years. The United States represents the severe end of the scale with maximum ranging from state to state from 10 years to life prison sentence or even death penalty (Manzanera, 1998). Within the last 12 months, e.g. Ireland, which has recently become a destination country for increasing trafficking, and Japan have raised their maximum penalties up to ten years.

Considering the evidence shown in this report, it is clear that migration is becoming increasingly exposed to the involvement of criminal groups and criminal activities linked to migration are more sophisticately organized. However, this does not mean that the international criminal organisations are involved in all cases of migrant trafficking. Local traffickers have in many instances control of the business. As discussed in this paper, there still exists little evidence althought a lot of suspicion about wide-scale involvement of international crime organisations.


CISNEWS, 26 November 1997: Britain forms taskforce to fight illegal immigrant rackets , (AFP London )

CISNEWS, 5 August 1998, Dover faces migrant rush (London Evening Standard)

Finckenauer, James O.†1998: Migration and Organized Crime†: The Russian Connection, in Migration and Crime, proceedings of the International Conference on†`Migration and Crime. Global and Regional Problems and Responses` Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy 5-8 October 1996, pp. 155-169, ISPAC

International Organisation for Migration†1994: Trafficking in Migrants†: Charasteristics and Trends in Different Regions of the World, discussion paper to the Eleventh IOM Seminar On Migration, 26-28 October 1994, Geneva,†entitled†: International Response to Trafficking in Migrants and the Safeguarding of Migrant Rights, p.3,7

International Organization for Migration†1997: Trafficking in Women to Japan for Sexual Exploitation†: A Survey on the Case of Filipino Women, p.36, IOM Geneva

International Organization for Migration 1998a†: An internal IOM note on IOM ñ Government of poland expert seminar on migrant trafficking†: in Hungary, Poland and Ukraine, June 8-9, 1998 Warsaw, Poland (The seminar was an interim meeting of experts in the middle of a research project to be finished in late 1998)

International Organization for Migration 1998b†: Trafficking in migrants†: Global and Regional Perspectives, Background paper for a trafficking seminar held in Vilnius on 17 and 18.9.1998

International Organisation for Migration, Trafficking in Migrants-bulletin, December 1997/January 1998†:Two trafficking rings broken up, N_ 17 , (Migration News Sheet 1997†)

The Irish Times, 2 June 1998†: Eight refugees found in lorry seek asylum

Lebed, Michail Adamovic 1998†: A Few Observations about Trafficking in Women by a Criminologist, in Traffic in Women in Postcommunist Countries of Central and Eastern Europe, p.113, La Strada Ceska republica, Ukraine

Manzanera, Luis Rodriquez 1998†: Migration and Organized Crime in Central and North America, in Migration and Crime, p.180, ISPAC

Migration News Sheet, January 1998†: Secret Services to combat organised illegal immigration, (The Daily Telegraph, The Mirror and The Guardian 27.11.1997)

Migration News Sheet, November 1997

Nigoul, Claude†1998: Globalisation, transition and international security, The Courier n. 171 ñ september-october, 1998, p.71

Porteous, Samual 1998†:Organized Crime Impact Study Highlights (more information on the website

Reuters, 23 March 1998†: Asian economic crisis boom to organised crime (Manila)

Reuters, 11 May 1998†: Morocco navy picks up illegal Spain-bound migrants (Rabat)

Reuters, 25 May 1998†: Belgian court imprisons nine for alien smuggling, (Brussels)

Savona, Ernesto U. , di Nicola, Andrea , and da Col, Giovanni†1998: Dynamics of Migration and Crime in Europe†: New Patterns of an Old Nexus in Migration and Crime, Proceedings of the International Conference on `Migration and Crime†, Global and Regional Problems and Responses†¥ Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy 5-8 October 1996, p.73, ISPAC

The Times, 6.8.1998

Williams, Phil†1994: Transnational Criminal Organisations and International Security, in Survival, vol. 36, no. 1, p. 96-113

Annex : The activities of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) related to migrant trafficking

There are five key activities by which IOM addresses migrant trafficking, including trafficking in women and children. These are:



information dissemination

technical cooperation

return and reintegration activities

Seminar activities. IOM has since 1993 sought to provide a forum for consultations on the topic. After some informal meetings IOM convened in 1994 a global seminar, which in its conclusions called upon IOM to follow up through advancing international dialogue on migrant trafficking, notably in regional fora, collect and exchange information on trafficking, to analyze the particularly vulnerable situation of trafficked migrant women; and, finally, to contribute to the effort to harmonize policies, laws, procedures and penalties to fight trafficking and protect human rights.

As follow-up activities, a number of regional intergovernmental consultation processes on migration issues have emerged around the world, with irregular migration and trafficking as key topics on the agenda. IOM is involved as a facilitator in the so called Puebla process, started in 1996 amongst the ten countries of Central and Northern America; also in Manila Process, launched likewise in 1996, covering an area of 16 countries of East and South East Asia (including Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand). These processes involve regular meetings of migration authorities to exchange information on migratory trends and policy measures, and develop cooperation in combating trafficking. The continuous exchange of information and coordination of policies has resulted in concrete cooperation measures in the work against trafficking.

Similar intergovernmental consultations have been discussed and prepared for the countries of Southern Africa and in South America.

Research Trafficking is still a fairly recently emerged topic in international migration and little research has been conducted. As it is a clandestine, criminal activity, no exhaustive and complete data are available, which complicates the proper planning and scope of measures. To date, IOM has conducted 9 country studies in countries such as Lithuania, Italy, Austria, Japan and the Dominican Republic.

In cooperation with the EU, IOM conducted in 1997-98 a fundamental study charting the availability and reliability of data on trafficking in EU countries and selected countries of origin and transit. At the moment, a research project is underway on the responses of authorities, organizations and other institutions against trafficking in Ukraine, Poland, and Hungary.

Information dissemination Preventive information campaigns are carried out in countries of origin, in an attempt to spread knowledge of the risks of irregular migration and trafficking, and thus encourage informed decisions on migration. These campaigns tend to use national and local TV and radio programmes (documentaries and interactive, write-in-call-in series of programmes) posters and written material. Such campaigns have been implemented in Albania, Romania, Ukraine, Vietnam and the Philippines.

IOM also publishes the quarterly information bulletin Trafficking in Migrants which in a concise form reports about trafficking trends, new policies, publications and meetings around the theme. The bulletin and most of the research reports are available on the internet on IOMís website (_ HYPERLINK _

Technical cooperation IOMís technical cooperation programmes comprise a wide scale of development and support activities which aim to strengthen governmentsí capacities and skills for effective migration management. This happens through training in languages, management, migration law and administration, consulting and supporting the formulation of migration policies, providing information technology, supporting the building of reception facilities, and study visits. This development work enhances the possibilities of governments to sharpen migration control and process various immigrant categories in an appropriate way.

Return and Reintegration Along with its diverse return programmes for different migrant categories, IOM supports trafficked migrants and assists in their return. Return services are delivered for stranded migrants i.a. in Central America, in the Western Europe, in Lithuania, and in Indochina, where return is coupled with shelter, counceling and reintegration services for trafficked women and children. These returns are carried out in close cooperation with government authorities and NGOs.