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MMC West Africa & North Africa 4Mi Snapshot – September 2021 Smuggling, risks, and abuses: dangerous locations and perpetrators (part 1 of 3)

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This is the first in a series of three 4Mi snapshots looking at the conjunction between smuggling and the risks and abuses faced by refugees and migrants moving through West and North Africa. It draws on 2,427 interviews conducted in Libya, Niger, Mali, and Tunisia between March and July 2021.

This first snapshot focuses on smuggling and dangerous routes, and the role of smugglers as perpetrators of risks relative to other actors in these locations. It underscores that while the use of smugglers and the risks associated with certain routes often go hand in hand, smugglers themselves are just one of a variety of actors perpetrating abuses against refugees and migrants.

This snapshot is produced in the context of a partnership with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants.

Key findings

• Respondents who used a smuggler more often reported at least one dangerous location on their journey: 73% of respondents who used a smuggler cited at least one location on the journey as dangerous, compared to 41% of respondents who did not use a smuggler. This suggests either that routes through a country are dangerous and necessitate the services of a smuggler, or that smugglers are linked to protection violations, or some combination of the two.

• Among the most frequently cited dangerous locations2, Libya was the place perceived to be most unsafe: 54% of all risks attributed to the most dangerous locations were cited in relation to Libya. 24% of perceived perpetrators mentioned in relation to these risks were criminals/criminal gangs, 22% were armed groups and militias, 18% were smugglers, 17% were border guards/immigration officials and 16% were military/police.

• Overall smugglers were not the most frequently cited perpetrator of risks: they made up only 16% of overall perpetrator mentions.

• Smugglers were cited most frequently as perpetrators of risks only in the Sahara Desert, very closely followed by other actors. Smugglers comprised 26% of all mentions of perceived perpetrators for that location (followed by 25% for criminals/ criminal gangs and 16% for military/police).