Europe’s migrant crisis is not only a humanitarian crisis: It's now a multi-billion dollar business worth more than the illicit trade of drugs and weapons.
Authorities have expressed concern over the worsening migrant crisis in Europe that is threatening to destabilize the region’s economy by straining its resources, flooding dirty money and attracting criminal gangs, all while inflicting a horrific human toll.
The business of ferrying immigrants across the Balkans and into Europe has grown substantially into a multi billion dollar business. According to Gerald Tatzgern, head of the Austrian police service fighting human trafficking, “It has developed into a business worth billions.”
The trade has attracted hundreds of criminal cartels eager to get a piece of the pie. Tatzgern reported that in Greece alone, 200 such cartels have emerged.
Head of Europe’s police agency (Europol), Ro Wainwright, said on an Irish network that up to 30,000 people were involved in the human smuggling trade.
Tatzgern said that the smugglers were spread throughout the Balkan region, in Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria.
Officials at Frontex, which monitors the EU’s borders, said the groups varied in size and level of sophistication. The groups hire agents, of Syrian or Afghan nationality, to work on the ground in contact with likely clients eager to get to Europe. They target train stations and border points, moving freely within crowds and offering train rides for hundreds of dollars.
Izabella Cooper, Frontex spokeswoman said, “If a migrant has a lot of money, smugglers can get them a forged passport or a stolen ID card with a visa, together with a plane ticket to a chosen European country. But this option is affordable only for a handful of people.”
These migrants then have routes plotted out for them from Turkey all the way to Hungary, passed on from gang to gang until they get to their final destination.
However, not all of them make it to Europe.
Some gangs exploit the migrants’ desperation with phony travel packages then end up abandoning them in the woods or by remote roadsides. Recently, a group preying on migrants stuck at Keleti train station promised them rides to Austria. After paying, the migrants were locked in a windowless van and driven around in circles in Budapest before being dumped at a suburban shopping mall with gates that resembled border crossings.
Zoltan Bolek, head of Hungary’s Islamic Community said, “The smugglers are so tempting. Taxis willing to take them to the Austrian border are everywhere. It costs 1,000 euro, and if they are lucky, they actually get there.”
Only recently were the bodies of 71 migrants found decomposing in a stationary van by the roadside in Austria. The search for a better life, away from the ravages of war and famine, have sent many families into Europe through illegal means and by paying top dollar. The question authorities are facing is whether to legalize and even assist migrants into Europe as the only way to stop them from turning to preying criminal cartels.