The first global study on smuggling of migrants released recently by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, said at least 2.5 million migrants were smuggled in 2016 and smugglers cropped up to 7 billion US dollars out of it.
Migrant smuggling occurred in all regions of the world and generated an income for smugglers of up to 7 billion U.S. dollars, equivalent to what the United States or the European Union countries spent on global humanitarian aid in 2016, the study said.
It described 30 major smuggling routes worldwide and found that demand for smuggling services is particularly high among refugees who, for lack of other means, may need to use smugglers to reach a safe destination fleeing their origin countries.
Data suggests that many smuggling flows include unaccompanied or separated children, who might be particularly vulnerable to deception and abuse by smugglers and others, it said.
"In 2016, nearly 34,000 unaccompanied and separated children arrived in Europe," mainly in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, and Spain.
According to the International Organization for Migration, there are thousands of deaths due to migrant smuggling activities each year. Many smuggled migrants die from drowning, whereas others perish due to accidents or extreme terrain and weather conditions. According to records, the Mediterranean appears to be the deadliest route, with around 50 percent of the total number of deaths.
Systematic killings of migrants were also reported along most smuggling routes, and smuggled migrants are also vulnerable to a range of other forms of crime such as violence, rape, theft, kidnapping, extortion, and trafficking in persons.
The study also looked at the gender composition of smuggled migrants and found that this is often influenced by the circumstances driving their mobility. While noting most of them are relatively young men, it pointed out on some routes, notably in parts of South-East Asia, however, women comprise large shares of smuggled migrants.
Smuggling may involve complex schemes, such as organizing fake marriages or fictitious employment, counterfeiting travel documents or corrupting senior officials, the study said, adding, for this reason, many smuggling networks engage in systematic corruption at most levels.