Authorities dismantled a transnational human smuggling ring that brought migrants from South Asia to Brazil and then transported them all the way to the US-Mexico border, relying on a vast network of smugglers and charging thousands for their services.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Brazilian authorities conducted a joint operation on October 31, arresting Saifullah Al-Mamun, a Bangladeshi national who was living in São Paulo after entering Brazil six years ago as a refugee. He has been charged with eight counts of human smuggling, according to a US federal indictment.
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Brazil authorities said that the ring moved some $10 million and had been in operation since 2014, smuggling hundreds of migrants. Seven other people were arrested during the operation and 42 bank accounts linked to the smuggling ring were seized, US prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, Al-Mamun brought the migrants to Brazil on commercial flights and then arranged for their travel through network of smugglers operating in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.
In the city of Tapachula, along the southern Mexico border, the migrants were met by Mohamed Milon Hossain, a Bangladeshi national in Mexico, who was arrested on August 31 and pleaded guilty to human smuggling charges. Milon Hossain secured the migrants’ flights to northern Mexico.
There, the migrants were met by Moktar Hossain, a Bangladeshi national living in Monterrey who has also pleaded guilty to human smuggling charges. He arranged for their lodging and their movement to Rio Grande and finally their smuggling across the Texas-Mexico border.
The service cost around $12,500 per person, Reuters reported. The fee covered not only the long, dangerous journey but also the creation of false papers. It was also reported that a lawyer was helping the ring with migration issues and requests prior to migrants arriving in Brazil.
InSight Crime Analysis
While Central American migrants are the focus of US authorities, this bust shows how Latin American networks are used to move Asian migrants to the United States.
This highly organized smuggling ring operated across two continents, maintained smuggling contacts in at least eight countries, and created credible false documents that permitted the migrants to seek asylum and board commercial flights.
The smuggling of migrants from Asia to South America is on the rise, according to a 2018 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The migrants often arrive by commercial flight to São Paulo, where international smuggling rings -- like the one busted recently -- use local smuggling contacts to coordinate the logistics of moving the migrants on the dangerous journey north.
Colombian authorities have been stopping large groups of Asian and African migrants since 2015. The migrants first trek across the Darién Gap, a mountainous rainforest between Colombia and Panama. Once in Central America, they face the same threats as other migrants: robbery and violence by gangs that patrol smuggling routes. Such attacks are also common in Mexico, where the migrants must also contend with mafias that demand fees for safe passage.
Tapachula, a Mexican city along the northern Guatemala border, is a major entry point for migrants outside of Latin America, according to a 2018 Organization of American States report, titled “Irregular Migration Flows to the Americas from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.” The report also noted an increase in the use of false documents.
According to Roeland De Wilde, head of the International Organization for Migration in Costa Rica, it is likely this type of people smuggling will increase in Latin America, given the increasing difficulties which migrants from a number of Asian countries face when entering Europe.