One underreported consequence of the Iraqi refugee crisis is the expansion of human smuggling rings. Smugglers typically bring Iraqi refugees through the Middle East and into Southern or Central Europe where they proceed to Scandinavian countries who typically have generous asylum laws and large welfare apparatuses. However, as the ABC News blog, The Blotter, has reported, even US-Mexican smuggling rings are getting a piece of the action by importing Iraqis over the Rio Grande river.
As the lot of Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan worsens, being smuggled to Europe may seem like a viable, albeit expensive and risky, option.
Every Iraqi [in Syria] knows someone who has made it out by the smuggling routes. They also know someone who has been arrested on arrival or cheated out of his or her life savings for a chance at escape. But the underground route is a gamble those Iraqis who can afford it are willing to take.
Greece has become the preferred destination. Sweden was once considered the safest haven, but in February, the Swedish government rejected 72 percent of Iraqi asylum applicants. This winter, Sweden signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to allow forced repatriation, and more than 11,000 Iraqis are likely to be sent back to Baghdad after their asylum claims are rejected. The backlog of Iraqis is still flowing through the illegal pipeline. A new U.N. report shows that Iraqis were the largest group seeking asylum in the European Union.
According to the Norwegian paper, Aftenposten, now that Sweden is tightening Iraqi asylum policies, many smugglers are also directing Iraqis towards Norway.
Indeed, the risks for trusting these smuggling rings are many and dangerous. According to a smuggler working in Jordan who charges about $3,000 per person, an Iraqi who uses his services will first travel to Syria from Jordan, then to Turkey where they board a boat to Greece, take another boat to Italy from where they are driven to Germany and eventually board trucks heading for Scandinavia. According to the same article:
But the process is not as simple as it sounds, says Ali Abdellahi, a Kurdish-Swede who was smuggled to Sweden via a similar route in the mid-1990s. Abdellahi was imprisoned with little food by the smugglers in Greece, and had to swim half way to the Italian coast where he was picked up by the local police and taken into a refugee camp (where he was eventually smuggled out by a member of another smuggling network).