Migrant smuggling activities increased significantly in 2021

The increase in digitalisation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly influenced the functioning of all aspects of our society. Since the onset of the pandemic, criminals have adapted to the new rules and restrictions and, as a result, have exploited the most vulnerable. Migrant smugglers have continued to thrive despite these changes and have adapted the way they recruit, transport and exploit victims. They are arguably more digitalised and highly adaptable.

In 2021, the role of digital technologies in migrant smuggling increased. Traffickers have expanded their use of social media platforms and mobile applications to offer their illegal services.

More digitalised than ever, they abuse social media platforms, mobile applications and encrypted communication tools to offer their services, organise their logistics and secure their profits.

The new report from Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) takes a look at the operations supported by the centre in 2021 and the information collected. This report provides a clear picture of developments in these crime areas and looks at possible new developments. It offers recommendations to improve preparedness in the fight against these criminal activities that directly threaten the lives and dignity of victims.

These are the highlights of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre’s activities in 2021:

  • 6,139 new cases of human trafficking detected with the support of Europol.
  • 55 on-the-spot action days with experts from Europol.
  • 1,246 operational reports produced.
  • 26 high-value targets identified.

Among the new developments highlighted by Europol, the following points are worth mentioning:

  • An increase in border crossings in the European Union and secondary movements within the EU.
  • Better use of digital technologies to facilitate both illegal immigration and human trafficking.
  • The increase in the number of arrivals has placed Cyprus ahead of Greece as the most prominent landing area in the Eastern Mediterranean.
  • The migratory pressure on the eastern border route via Belarus has influenced the increased presence of criminal networks that facilitate secondary movement along this route.
  • Smuggling activities on the passage by sea to Italy almost doubled, while the fare for this trip increased from 6,000 to 12,000 euros.
  • Increased poly-criminality of migrant smuggling networks active along the Western Mediterranean and West African routes.
  • The human trafficking process, including recruitment and logistical arrangements, is becoming increasingly digitalised.


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