Smugglers pave path for Africa-to-Europe migrants

Diego Urdaneta –
They scale barbed-wire topped fences and cross the sea in inflatable oats or jet skis — more than 36,000 migrants entered Spain this year seeking a better life in Europe. Almost all of them relied on smugglers to make the crossing.
Ousman Umar, who made a five-year journey from Ghana to Spain, said it was “impossible” to travel thousands of kilometres from sub-Saharan Africa through deserts and inhospitable areas without the aid of gangs.
“There is almost no chance of reaching Europe illegally” without paying traffickers, Robert Crepinko, the head of the human smuggling unit at Europol, the European Union’s policing arm, said.
Ninety per cent of migrants who enter Europe are helped by human traffickers, he added, citing a 2015 study.
Spain has become the main entry point for migrants arriving this year, after Italy and Greece.
“The journey can last one year, two years, depending on the ring and the funds you have,” Jose Nieto Barroso of the national police’s human smuggling unit UCRIF said.
Migrants gather in Morocco because “it’s the best place to wait for the right moment to cross” over to Spain, said Nieto Barroso.
The vast majority pay for a spot on an inflatable dinghy or to take part in a mass run on the fortified border fences that surround Ceuta and Melilla, two tiny Spanish territories in North Africa that share EU’s only land borders with Africa.
Human traffickers charge 18 euros to try to scale the border fences, 200-700 euros to join a packed boat to cross the narrow Strait of Gibraltar separating Spain from Morocco by just 15 km at its narrowest point, or up to 5,000 euros to make the trip by jet ski, according to Spanish police.
Europol estimates migrants pay on average 3,000-5,000 euros for a complete trip to Europe.
Once in Spain, many want to move on to wealthier northern European countries like Britain, France and Germany where they believe they will have better opportunities, or because they already have family there.
The smugglers promise migrants they will be rescued at sea by the Spanish coast guard and then taken to migrant reception centres where “in three or four days members of the network will be in the area and get you out,” Nieto Barroso said. — AFP