HomeNewsAnalysisWave of Human Smuggling Hits Colombia
ANALYSIS

Wave of Human Smuggling Hits Colombia

COLOMBIA / 13 MAY 2015 BY ARRON DAUGHERTY EN

Colombian authorities have recently detained large groups of migrants originating from as far as Asia and Africa, highlighting shifting migration trends and underlining Colombia's strategic importance to these human smuggling networks. 

In early May, Colombian police discovered a group of 48 undocumented migrants in the coastal region of Uraba. The migrants -- which included people from Cuba, Nepal, Somalia, Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- were reportedly receiving aid from human smuggling networks based in the area, reported El Espectador

Instead of being smuggled into Panama as promised, the migrants were robbed and abandoned before police found them. Police said that criminal group the Urabeños were behind the smuggling scheme, reported EFE.

According to Colombia's immigration authority, migration through the country appears to be on the rise, reported El Espectador. Authorities detained 1,111 migrants in the first quarter of 2015, compared to 2,111 in all of 2014. When considering the number of undetected migrants passing through Colombia, the actual figures may be much higher. 

Many of these migrants appear to be moving through the state of Antioquia, where the region of Uraba is based. According to El Colombiano, Antioquia has registered 703 undocumented migrants so far this year, and just over 60 percent of those moved through Turbo, a small town in Uraba. 

SEE ALSO:  Colombia News and Profiles

Cubans make up a significant number of those attempting to move without visas through Colombia, with 17 Cubans detained on a boat off the Uraba coast in late April. However, other recent detentions have included nationals from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Colombia's geography makes it a natural launching point for migrants hoping to transit through South America to the US. This strategic location is partly why Colombia remains a key strategic hub for migration and human smuggling networks. 

No matter where they arrive, migrants who intend to travel northward by land must pass through Colombia. In particular, migrants need assistance traversing the area of swamps and forests that separates Colombia and Panama, known as the Darien Gap. Smugglers have been known to abandon migrants in this region, and many don't survive, as El Espectador has reported. 

Asian and African migrants in particular tend to fly into South American countries with more flexible visa requirements, and then attempt to make part of the journey northwards by land, which may involve moving through Colombia, according to a recent report on human smuggling by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Indeed, Colombia borders a country with some of the loosest immigration controls in the world, Ecuador. According to a report released this year by Colombian migration authorities, Cubans will typically pay up to $500 for transport by land and sea from Quito, Ecuador to Colombia's border with Panama. African migrants are known to pay up to $100 to cross the Ecuadorian border into Colombia.

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Human Smuggling

A mix of visa exceptions elsewhere in Latin America may also facilitate the entry of those looking to migrate from Asia and Africa to the US. Migrants from a number of Asian countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand need no visa to enter Brazil, for example. Guatemala was once something of a pipeline for migrants from India, due to lax visa requirements (which have since been changed).  

The financial incentives involved in human smuggling are significant: Colombian migration authorities have noted that African migrants have been known to pay between $6,000 to $10,000 just to transit through Colombia to Turbo. Smugglers often create additional income by forcing migrants into unpaid labor or commercial sex work, which is one reason why human smuggling and human trafficking often goes hand-in-hand, as the US State Department has detailed

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Human Trafficking

Colombian authorities have expressed concerns that an influx of migrants through Colombia could mean criminal groups could take advantage of them to transport drugs and weapons. Deeper involvement in human smuggling could prove to be an irresistible business to organizations like the Urabeños, although there have been few previous reports of this group's involvement in the trade. Should migrants passing through Colomba start to see levels of abuse similar to that seen in Mexico, it will be a serious humanitarian challenge for the government, both in terms of security and migration policy.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COCA / 22 DEC 2020

President-elect Joe Biden wants to reset US-Latin American relations, but the Trump administration’s approach may leave scars.

ELITES AND CRIME / 9 JUN 2015

The list of accusations against Panama's former President Ricardo Martinelli is growing rapidly, with illegal wiretaps the latest allegation as…

CARIBBEAN / 20 MAY 2013

Police in the Dominican Republic have broken up a criminal operation that smuggled in children from Haiti then forced them…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Criminal Enterprise on the High Seas

12 AUG 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an extensive investigation into Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing that plagues the waters of nine Latin American countries. Among the stories were how…

THE ORGANIZATION

Oceans Pillaged in Central America and the Caribbean

5 AUG 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the first installment of a nine-part investigation uncovering the hidden depths of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Latin America. The first installment covered Central America and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela’s Tren de Aragua Becomes Truly Transnational

29 JUL 2022

This week, InSight Crime published a deep dive into the total control that Venezuelan mega-gang, Tren de Aragua, has over the lives of those it smuggles between Venezuela and Chile…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkish Traffickers Delivering Latin American Cocaine to Persian Gulf

15 JUL 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an investigation piecing together the emerging role of Turkish cocaine traffickers in supplying Russia and the Persian Gulf, which are among…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkey as a Lynchpin in European Cocaine Pipeline

8 JUL 2022

InSight Crime is extending its investigation into the cocaine pipeline to Europe, and tracking the growing connections between Latin American drug traffickers and European criminal organizations. This led us to…