Monthly Migration Movements - Afghan Displacement Summary - February 2017

from Danish Refugee Council, Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat
Published on 28 Feb 2017

Smuggling Networks


The Mixed Migration Monitoring Initiative (4Mi)1 in Central Asia and South West Asia (CASWA) region aims at gathering data on displaced Afghans on the move. Data is collected in Afghanistan as well as with Afghans on the move toward the East and West and trend analyses are produced on a monthly basis. The purpose is to increase knowledge about drivers of movement and protection risks faced by Afghans on the move.

This paper zooms in on the smuggler networks used by Afghans on the move. The findings are based on a sample size of 25 interviews. 18 standardized surveys were conducted with smugglers in Afghanistan by 4Mi field monitors in Kabul, Zaranj, Kandahar & Jalalabad; 3 informal interviews in Iran and 4 in Zaranj, Afghanistan2. The informal interviews were conducted to gain insight about the smuggler network in places where it is highly sensitive to collect such data and covered similar themes as in the standardized survey: Demographics, migration trends, personal motivation and smuggling as a profession, routes & costs, the smuggling network, services provided and risks associated with smuggling.

The sample size only represents a small section of the smuggler networks used by Afghans. Any generalizations must be made with an understanding of the sampling methodology of 4Mi. For more information about the 4Mi methodology please visit:

Profile of Smugglers

According to the 4Mi data and based on discussions with the monitors, almost all of those involved in smuggling are married men between 25-45 years old. Smugglers at all levels have basic education: Out of the 25 smugglers, 15 have finished primary or middle school education. For those engaged in smuggling, it is a primary source of income: The majority of interviewees named smuggling as their main profession, and only a few were engaged in other businesses. Not one ethnic group dominates smuggling networks; those interviewed include Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Herati and Baluch. However, the proportion of ethnic groups varies in different areas of Afghanistan; for example, most smugglers in south and east Afghanistan are Pashtun while in Zaranj, the starting point for irregular migration towards Iran, Baluchis and Heratis dominate.

Smuggling Networks

Based on 4Mi data, most smugglers in Afghanistan are part of a smuggling network (21 smugglers). These networks can be divided into three categories according to the scope of activities carried out:

  • a) Local networks; mostly active at the border points and consist of locals who have connections to people on the other side of a border. The main activity for these networks involve smuggling goods such as oil, drugs, weapons, etc; assisting people from one side of a border to another is a minor side activity. These networks are prevalent on the border with Pakistan.

  • b) Regional networks; cover smuggling to neighboring countries and counties in the region. Thus, these networks mostly smuggle people from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. Sometimes, regional networks also provide visa and safe transfer via air to countries like India and Indonesia.

  • c) Global networks; are collaborating with regional networks and manage smuggling to countries outside of the region. Previously, these networks to a large extent focused on smuggling Afghans to Australia whereas today there is an increased focus on smuggling to Europe.

According to the report ‘Migrant smuggling data and research: A global review of the emerging evidence base’, the principal smuggling agents are usually stationed outside of Afghanistan and employ a network of facilitators around the point of origin. Thus, within Afghanistan, almost all smugglers are of Afghan nationality but they collaborate with smugglers from other nationalities in transit and destination countries.

Naturally, the tasks of each person within a smuggling network differs, for example some people are responsible for finding customers while others gather the migrants at certain meeting points. The mid-level employees usually have their own team consisting of drivers, recruiting agents, Hawaladars, etc. Those who are responsible for the entire network are supervising and coordinating the activities from the beginning till arrival at destination country. The main means of communication among people in a network and with customers are phones and social media, especially Viber, Whatsapp and Facebook. In order to secure anonymity smugglers often buy unregistered simcards in Bazars and throw them away after some time.