A criminal human smuggling and trafficking ring operating in France and Spain was dismantled earlier this week, leading to the arrest of seven people suspected of smuggling about 300 African refugees into the countries, according to an announcement from Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency.
The criminal network facilitated the migrants’ entry into Spain before subsequently smuggling them into France, Europol stated.
Smuggling, the practice of transporting people into foreign countries, can potentially lead to trafficking — a form of servitude that includes forced labor or sexual exploitation. In the U.S., smuggling is defined by the Department of Homeland Security as “transportation-based” and trafficking is “exploitation-based.”
“It is absolutely necessary to crack these various networks that thrive on the misery and credulity of a certain number of people and it is to be hoped that the victims will be protected,” Pierre Henry, director general of the asylum seeker support association Terre d’Asile, said in a report on francetvinfo.
How are people exploited?
“Exploitation today includes, in addition to sexual exploitation, labor, forced services, slavery, servitude and even organ harvesting. The thing to keep in mind is that it is very lucrative,” Henry added.
Globally, human trafficking brings in as much as $150 billion a year for traffickers, according to the non-profit group Human Rights First.
In 2016, the Los Angeles Times reported that “Nigerian mafias” were moving into Italy and bringing with them scores of Nigerian prostitutes. Crime ring leaders used “violence and and religious rites to terrify trafficked women into submission,” according to the report.
Back in 2014, the number of Nigerian women sailing to Italy from Libya increased from 1,454 to 10,624 just from January to the end of November. At the time, the International Organization for Migration estimated that as many as 80 percent of the women were forced to work as prostitutes.
“With prices for sex with girls as young as 14 starting at around $10, 1 in 2 street prostitutes in Italy today is Nigerian,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
An estimated 84 percent of sex trafficking victims today are women, Henry said. That figure falls in line with a 2016 U.S. report from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center that showed 83.9 percent of sex trafficking victims were female, and 31.6 percent were minors.
How can smuggling lead to trafficking?
“The cost of a passage is relatively expensive,” Henry said in the report. And the people being smuggled are not charged at cost.
“…If passage cost 10,000 euros, the person will have to repay 40,000 euros, and the refund can only be done through a number of activities, work, organized begging, prostitution," Henry said.
In 2017, Europol led a sting that detained 107 suspects and identified more than 900 potential victims of sexual exploitation, according to its website.