People smugglers make $35 bn a year on migrant crisis, says IOM head

ESTORIL, Portugal: People smugglers make about $35 billion a year worldwide and they are driving the tragedy of migrants who die trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Wednesday.
Increasing numbers of desperate migrants fleeing from Africa and elsewhere due to conflicts and humanitarian crises are dying as they attempt to reach Europe via Libya, coaxed to do so by smugglers as they wait in detention centres.
The death toll of people crossing the Mediterranean has reached 1,700 so far this year before the summer when many more often make the journey, compared to 3,700 for all of 2015 and 5,000 last year, said IOM head William Lacy Swing.
“Now, let’s be careful because those are the people we know who died, how many other bodies are submerged in the Mediterranean or buried in the sands of the Sahara,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a conference on migration.
“That’s the tragedy and this is why we are so concerned to try to caution migrants about smugglers. The smugglers are really the big problem. It’s about $35 billion a year (that people smugglers make) and we know they’re making lots of money across the Mediterranean.”
People smuggling now represents the third-largest business for international criminals, after gun and drug trafficking, he said.
Libya has become a major point of departure for migrants from Africa, where lawlessness is spreading six years after the fall of strongman Muammar Gaddafi and migrants say conditions at government-run migrant centres are terrible.
After visiting Libya in March, Lacy Swing said his organisation is “all ready to go” and return international staff to Libya to work at migrant centres but has so far not been allowed to do so by the United Nations. — Reuters