Investigations into a group offering fraudulent documents to migrants in Ecuador has revealed the increasing sophistication, international connections and corruption of state institutions by human smuggling organizations, operating in a country that has become a way point for undocumented migrants.
In a series of raids carried out on 14 properties in Quito earlier this month, nine suspects were arrested on charges of human smuggling and immigration fraud, among them a former official from the Civil Registry Office, reported El Comercio. During the raids, officials also discovered visas for the United States, Mexico and the European Union, and false stamps for various embassies and consulates.
Prosecutors' investigations since the arrests have revealed how the ring recruited migrants through social media networks, then offered a series of services including forged letters of invitation, identify cards and other documents, according to El Comercio. The ring allegedly charged up to $1,500 for the documents.
InSight Crime Analysis
Ecuador's lax immigration requirements have made the country an attractive destination both for organized crime and migrants. While the government has launched initiatives to combat human smuggling and trafficking rings, ease of entry continues to fuel the trade.
The country has become a particularly popular hub for Haitians and Cubans. According to El Comercio, significant deficits have been registered between the number of Cubans and Haitians officially registered as entering and leaving the country in recent years, with over 2,000 more Haitians entering than leaving in 2012, while more than 7,000 more Cubans entered than left between 2007 and 2011.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Smuggling
As well as the flow of Cubans and Haitians, Ecuador has seen an influx of Asian migrants, particularly from southern Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. Reports last year suggested that Chile is also now an increasingly popular final destination, alongside the United States, Europe and Brazil.
The investigation into the ring dismantled in Quito highlights how the trade is evolving as Ecuador's popularity increases as a human smuggling hub, becoming more sophisticated by utilizing social media in recruitment and by expanding to include document forgery, as well as simply transporting people to their destinations.
It also highlights the role of corruption in facilitating the trade as the ring evidently relied on contacts with the Civil Registry. In this, the case is far from isolated -- just last December various public officials and notary employees were arrested in a similar case.