The UN questions whether focusing on boat patterns combats networks

Unlike what happened until the so-called "cayuco crisis" (2006), when most of the young people who arrived in the Canary Islands in a small boat had "self-organized" the journey, today almost all put their lives in the hands of traffickers

EFE The Gran Canarian palms

More of
150 immigrants of North African or sub-Saharan origin were detained in 2021 only in Gran Canaria accused of being the bosses of the small boats in which they arrived on the island, in what constitutes the most visible effort of the Spanish Police against the networks that traffic in people.

In a monographic report on the
Canary Route published in recent days, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) questions whether this is the appropriate strategy, whether the weight of the law is falling on people who have little connection with the networks that move the boats and who frequently take the helm to pay for their own ticket to the Canary Islands.

"However, members of the criminal groups on the north-west coast of Africa who organize the
migrant smuggling along this route they are rarely the object of police activities“, writes the UNODC in the latest report of its Observatory on Migrant Smuggling, which is published with the collaboration of the governments of Denmark, Canada and Japan.

Unlike what happened until the call
"crisis of the cayucos" (2006), when most of the young people who arrived in the Canary Islands in a small boat had "self-organized" the journey, today
almost all who survive to the Atlantic Route has put his life in the hands of groups of smugglers once or several times: both at the time of embarking, and on his previous journey until he reached the coast of departure, underlines the United Nations.

Sánchez sees a

At this time, confirms this UN report, you pay to go up to the Canary Islands in a small boat between
$1,500 and $3,000at rates that depend on several factors, such as the starting point, the type of boat (inflatable, patera or canoe) and the possibility or not of repeating if the group is intercepted on the departure coast.

"Smugglers' offers to cross from Western Sahara in inflatable boats are cheaper, while the crossing in a small boat or canoe, with a smaller number of occupants, less than 30 people, is more expensive, according to key informants" , report the authors of this work.

The business is round. According to the UNODC,
each boat generates an income of about 80,000 dollars for the organization that charters itwhich cover the cost of the boat (around $10,000 is paid for unregistered boats), two motors (usually one of the two is new), "bribes for police officers" at departure costs and, in a few cases, previous food and accommodation.

West Africa, information about the services of smugglers is usually obtained at bus stations, taxis, cafes or hairdressers. It also circulates word of mouth, sometimes through "facilitators" or "hooks" paid by the mafias themselves and, in others, it comes in the form of advice from someone who undertook the route to Europe before and who shares their contacts.

The patron of a boat, reports the United Nations, rarely belongs to that organization. And, if it has any connection with it, it is with the lowest echelon of it, which is why the report asks if it is correct, or not, to focus on stopping those who are at the helm.

According to the UNODC, “most of the key informants from the Spanish law enforcement and criminal justice system (consulted for this report) highlighted that operations to combat
migrant smuggling in the Canary Islands They are not hitting the target, since they focus on prosecuting the bosses«.

The owners of the boats face an aggravated crime in Spain, punishable by sentences of four to eight years in prison, which can reach 10 or 20 years if any of the occupants of the boat dies on the journey (generally a year, at least, for each death classified as "reckless homicide").

The UN reminds that, with Spanish law in hand, taking the helm or GPS of the boat to pay for the journey is not a legal excuse. On the contrary, it is considered a benefit or profit for the protagonist of that conduct and "activates" the Penal Code.

The UNODC warns that what is happening on the Canarian Route, considered as
one of the most dangerous in the worldraises «concerns about the victimization of boat owners by smuggling organizers based in Northwest Africa», due to «the presence of potential elements of abuse of a position of vulnerability, one of the possible means trafficking in persons, and forced criminal activities.

And there are Canarian lawyers, he adds, who have told him that they have clients prosecuted as "skippers" who actually took the helm when the real pilots of their boats died after drifting for several days, and that they did so to try to save themselves. themselves and the other occupants of the boat.

How are patterns identified? Sometimes, the Civil Guard or the Police have images taken from the air that reveal who is at the helm (if they do not cover their faces), but, in general, they are processed with the statement of fellow travelers , whom he becomes "protected witnesses".

The UNODC emphasizes that it is not aware that, until now, an employer has been granted the same status, that of "protected witness", to promote "investigations into the organizers and high-level members of smuggling organizations."

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