Smugglers pave path for migrants from Africa to Europe

Migrants attempt to open the rear door of a truck at the Brittany ferry port in Ouistreham, northwestern France, on September 18, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2018
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Smugglers pave path for migrants from Africa to Europe

  • Migrants gather in Morocco because “it's the best place to wait for the right moment to cross” over borders with Africa
  • Europol estimates migrants pay on average €3,000-5,000 for a complete trip to Europe

MADRID: They scale barbed-wire topped fences and cross the sea in inflatable boats 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 other 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, told AFP. Ninety percent 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, because the trafficking networks will take you as far as you can pay,” Jose Nieto Barroso of the national police's human smuggling unit UCRIF told AFP.
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 heavily fortified border fences that surround Ceuta and Melilla, two tiny Spanish territories in North Africa that share the EU's only land borders with Africa. Human traffickers charge 18 euros ($21) 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 kilometers (9 miles) 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 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. Once again, human traffickers play a role in getting them there. The smugglers promise migrants they will be rescued at sea by the Spanish coast guard and then taken to migrant reception centers where “in three or four days members of the network will be in the area and get you out,” Nieto Barroso said. The gang will then take the migrants to another country or, in worst-case scenarios, pass them on to other gangs that exploit them. Women are sometimes forced into prostitution while men are used as slave labor in agriculture or made to beg in the streets. The rings “supply people. They say: 'I have 8, 12, 15 people from the sub-Sahara who can be put to work',” said Nieto Barroso.
Gangs take advantage of the “brutal collapse” of overcrowded migrant reception centers, and gain access to migrants through nonprofit organizations which work with the newcomers, he added. Paloma Favieres of the Spanish Committee for Refugee Aid (CEAR) denounced the reception Spain gives migrants as “chaotic.”
She said she notifies police whenever she believes a migrant is at risk of falling prey to human traffickers but stressed it was up to police “to fight against crime.”
“I don't get any help from the police,” she told AFP.
With migrant arrivals to Spain's southern shores on the rise, more of them are heading north to the border town of Irun, some sleeping rough as they wait to cross into neighbouring France, or to Santander, where police in August arrested two people for hiding migrants in their vehicle which was going to board a ferry bound for Britain.
Police smashed 25 human trafficking rings in Spain last year but many more remain active in Africa, recruiting more migrants.


11 people reported killed in gun attack at bar in Brazil

Policemen are seen at a site where, according to local media, an armed group entered and opened fire at a bar, killing and wounding its patrons, in Belem, Para state, Brazil May 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 35 min 2 sec ago
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11 people reported killed in gun attack at bar in Brazil

  • Brazil hit a record high of 64,000 homicides in 2017, 70% of which were due to firearms, according to official statistics

RIO DE JANEIRO: A gang of gunmen roared up to a bar in Belem city in Brazil’s northern Pará state and opened fire, killing six women and five men Sunday afternoon, media reports said. State officials would confirm only that “a massacre” occurred but gave no details.
The G1 news website said police reported that seven gunmen were involved in the attack, which also wounded one person. The news outlet said the attackers arrived at the bar on one motorcycle and in three cars.
A Pará state spokeswoman, Natalia Mello, said only: “A massacre is confirmed.” State communications officials stopped answering phone calls. Military and civil police in Pará state also did not answer phone calls or respond to emails.
In late March, the federal government sent National Guard troops to Belém to reinforce security in the city for 90 days.
Brazil hit a record high of 64,000 homicides in 2017, 70% of which were due to firearms, according to official statistics.
Much of Brazil’s violence is gang related. In January, gangs attacked across Fortaleza, bringing that city to a standstill with as commerce, buses and taxis shut down.
Rio de Janeiro, the country’s second biggest city, experiences daily shootouts between rival gangs and also between police and criminals, battles that often result in the deaths of innocent bystanders. Fogo Cruzado, a group that monitors shootings in the Rio metropolitan area, says there were 2,300 shootings in Rio and its suburbs during the first 100 days of this year.
Killings attributed to police gunfire in Rio de Janeiro state have reached a record high, rising 18% in the first three months, in a spike partly attributed to a campaign of a zero tolerance for criminals being pushed by state leaders.
One of new President Jair Bolsonaro’s main campaign promises was that he would loosen Brazil’s strict gun laws, arguing that because criminals are well-armed with illegally obtained guns, “upstanding citizens” should have the right to defend themselves with legally bought guns. Bolsonaro has made good on that campaign promise with two presidential decrees that make buying guns easier, though federal prosecutors are seeking to get the courts to block that move.