Report ➠ ISIS Makes a Fortune From Smuggling Migrants
Europe’s immigration policies made this bloody nightmare possible. America is not far behind.
“ISIS Makes a Fortune From Smuggling Migrants Says Report,” By Vivienne Walt
European Union and African officials are scrambling to find ways to stop the migration. On Wednesday the Guardian revealed a 19-page E.U. strategy report to crack down on the smugglers, which included air strikes on boats and possibly the use of troops in Libya.
But while E.U. officials anguish over the plight of people crossing the Mediterranean to get to Europe, the migration has proved an invaluable business opportunity for groups like ISIS. So valuable that international crime experts believe ISIS might have launched some attacks specifically in order to drive people to flee, and then profit from their flight. “They [ISIS] were looking desperately for new funds,” says Christian Nelleman, director of the Norwegian Center for Global Analysis, or RHIPTO, who co-authored this week’s report with the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, a consortium of organized-crime experts. “Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS needs a totally different scale of funds because they run an army and provide social services,” he says.
Aside from oil, ISIS has recently earned between $22 million and $55 million a year taxing antiquities smugglers, who traffic looted objects out of Syria and Iraq, and between $168 million and $228 million a month taxing small businesses and residents in ISIS-controlled areas, according to the January intelligence report, which said ISIS has “a robust budget for a group numbering in the 30 to 40,000 range.”
In fact, the most robust new business is migrant smuggling, with funds going not only to ISIS but also al-Qaeda-linked groups around the Sahara and militias in Libya, which seized the capital Tripoli last August. Smugglers typically charge each migrant between $800 and $1,000 to reach Libya, either from across the Sahara or from the Middle East, and then between $1,500 and $1,900 to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, according to this week’s report.
In an interview with TIME last month, one migrant described being forced to pay different armed groups along each step of his four-month journey, from his home in Senegal until he squeezed aboard a migrant boat off Libya’s coast in mid-April, bringing the total cost of his journey to about $2,150. That is typical of the smugglers’ operation across the Middle East and Africa, according to this week’s report. “The value of this trade dwarfs any existing trafficking and smuggling businesses in the region, and has particularly strengthened groups with a terrorist agenda, including the Islamic State (ISIS),” the report says. “This growing business now provides what is possibly now the largest and most easily accessible threat finance opportunity for both organized crime networks and armed groups to purchase arms, establish larger and more regular armies, and demand taxation.”
The report suggests ISIS has recently driven Syrians and Iraqis from their homes in a deliberate attempt to increase their control over smuggling routes, and to drive up the numbers of those trying to cross the Mediterranean. More