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COVID-19 Global Thematic Update #1 Impact of COVID-19 on migrant smuggling, 1 September 2020


This is the first of a new series of global thematic updates on 4Mi data collected remotely by MMC about the impact of COVID-19 on refugees and migrants travelling along mixed migration routes in Africa, Asia and Latin America. After the initial roll-out of our adapted 4Mi survey focusing on the immediate impact of the pandemic in April, we moved into a new data collection phase in July, further zooming in on the impact of the pandemic on mixed migration, including migrant smuggling, drivers of mixed migration and movement decision-making, and protection. This first monthly thematic update focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on migrant smuggling (demand, access, fees, dependency and risks).

Key messages

• Overall, with increased need for and reduced access to smugglers as well as increased fees, refugees’ and migrants’ dependence on smugglers appears to have increased, and this increased dependency increases risks and vulnerability to protection incidents.

• 47% of surveyed refugees and migrants cited increased difficulty crossing borders as an impact of the coronavirus crisis on their migration journey, with substantial variations between regions.

• 37% of refugees and migrants interviewed by MMC indicated a greater need for smugglers. In West Africa and Latin America, this rose to 44% and 46%, respectively.

• 43% of surveyed refugees and migrants indicated increased difficulties accessing smugglers, with Latin America the only region where respondents less frequently said this was the case.

• Half of all respondents noted that smugglers’ fees have increased since the COVID-19 crisis began. Respondents in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Colombia, Peru, and Libya all more frequently reported this. Migrant smuggling seems to reflect market dynamics of supply and demand - with higher demand leading to higher fees - as these are also the regions where respondents cited the most increased need for smugglers.

• Most respondents (61%) indicated that smugglers have started using more dangerous routes since the outbreak of the pandemic. A strikingly high percentage of over 70% of respondents in Niger, Malaysia and Tunisia indicated that smugglers were choosing more dangerous paths.

• Smugglers are among a number of groups likely to be the perpetrators of protection incidents.