When developing a business model for their operations, smugglers need to plan and make decisions on several aspects. They need to build their business around the needs arising from people’s aspiration to migrate. Those who wish to leave their countries may want to travel to a faraway country or just to a neighbouring country. They may need facilitation for the whole trip or only for some parts of the travel. Some have more money to spend than others, and some can spend more time en route. Smugglers also need to build their reputation so that their services are used by those who need them.
There are also other aspects to be considered in order to organise successful smuggling operations. For example, some borders are more difficult to cross depending on the geographical conditions, season, level of controls and conditions in the receiving country. In responding to all these needs, smugglers use different business models. The descriptions below do not comprise an exhaustive list, and are intended as indications of how smuggling operations are typically carried out. An individual smuggled migrant’s trajectory may include travel segments organised in several different ways.
Often, the key decisions regarding the organization of smuggling are driven largely by the service suppliers, that is, the smugglers. However, in cases where those seeking to be smuggled are in a strong position to negotiate with the smuggler – usually because they have available financial resources and/or there are many competing smugglers operating from the point of departure – they may also have a strong influence on decisions regarding the travel.
The comprehensive package model is suitable for reaching faraway destinations in a short time. The whole travel from origin to destination is organised, including all transportation and border crossings. The selection of routes and methods of travel and decisions on how to organise irregular border crossings are usually made by the smugglers. There are no long waiting times at the borders. This model requires that smugglers have a good reputation in order to build trust among those considering to make use of their services. Comprehensive packages can be advertised through different media. Smugglers need to have good organisational skills and efficient networks to arrange the different border crossings, bribe officials and secure delivery to the desired destination; all skills possessed by organised crime groups. The price of such packages is often rather high.
Hub as a supermarket
In this business model, migrants can obtain all services from the smuggling hub which is often located close to the departure or transit points. They can also be found at some refugee camps to respond to the needs of those who would like to continue their travels. In some hubs, migrants are actively recruited to use the competing smuggling services. Migrants can travel to the hub either by themselves or they can use the services of local smugglers. In some cases, migrants are transported to the hub to continue their travel with the help of local smugglers.
When smugglers have geographical control of an area, they can offer their local knowledge to arrange secure smuggling operations or they can allow or restrict movements in the area under their control. Territorial control can cover the geographical area along the smuggling route or in the departure, arrival or other border areas. Smugglers in this model can constitute a professional core group surrounded by a loose and flexible network. ‘Professional’ smugglers may hire employees to deal directly with clients or contract services of amateurs. They may also buy vehicles to transport migrants and refugees and arrange border crossings. Sometimes, certain ethnic groups control territories and smuggling that takes place there.
Migrants can be offered travel and related services by a loosely organised network of smugglers. The network includes opportunistic individual smugglers who are informally organised and who interact with each other in a flexible manner. These networks can include different professionals such as agents and taxi, bus and lorry drivers who operate as smuggling managers with leadership of a chief smuggler to move people from origin to destination. Smuggling managers may work with a number of chief smugglers carrying out specific tasks such as guiding, transporting or accommodating migrants. Chief smugglers take care of the overall arrangements and can assist with hands-on tasks such as paying bribes and arranging guides for the migrants. Sometimes, the chief smuggler operates from abroad. In some cases, chief smugglers run travel agencies as a cover for their smuggling business. Migrants can be smuggled in groups or individually.
‘Hop on hop off’ along the smuggling route
In this model, smuggling services are offered along the route based on the ad-hoc need and funding situation of the migrant. The smuggling route consists of several independent legs which may or may not need the facilitation of smugglers. Migrants may cover these legs in different ways like walking, by overland, sea or air transportation by themselves or with the facilitation of different smugglers. Between different legs, migrants may need breaks in order to work to pay for the next part of the journey, wait for suitable smugglers or for a different season or improved weather conditions. In some cases, these pauses present an opportunity for the smugglers to exploit migrants.
This model is built around casual, temporary and ad-hoc operations carried out by smugglers who supplement other sources of income through migrant smuggling or get involved in it when opportunities arise. Smuggling networks – if they exist - are loosely connected, informal and not strictly hierarchical. Different individuals and groups form flexible chains, where members can easily be replaced with little or no disruption to the network’s activities. The services offered by smugglers often depend on the wealth of the migrants. In some cases, smugglers also offer services other than smuggling and can act as job brokers or offer accommodation.
From one leg to another
This model is based on connected legs along the route. Migrants can travel from one leg to another using different methods – some involving smuggling, some not. At the end of the smuggling leg, smugglers hand over the migrants to the next smuggler who arranges the next leg of the journey. Smugglers can also provide temporary accommodation where migrants can wait for suitable conditions for the next journey. The smuggling business can be small scale, part-time and opportunistic when smugglers are not organised but they may be somewhat connected, forming a loose network. Smugglers may also pay bribes to cross the border, to prevent officials reporting on detections or to prevent action against employers of irregular migrants.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons