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Inside a human smuggling ring
02:05 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

CNN investigation uncovers the business inside a human smuggling ring

10% discount offered for every referral of another paying migrant, desperate to reach Europe

Tripoli, Libya CNN  — 

Smugglers lure Arab and African migrants by offering discounts to get onto overcrowded ships if people bring more potential passengers, a CNN investigation has revealed.

A smuggler in the Libyan capital of Tripoli laid bare the system for loading boats with poor and desperate refugees, during a conversation that a CNN producer secretly filmed.

The conversation, recorded using a mobile phone, exposes the prices and incentives used to gather as many migrants as possible onto ships.

An estimated 1,600 migrants have died so far this year on the dangerous Mediterranean crossing, but still more wait to try to reach Europe.

CNN’s producer was introduced to a Senegalese and Malian smuggler by an intermediary in Tripoli, who mistakenly thought she was a Syrian looking to bring other Syrian refugees with her onto boats to Italy.

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The smuggler took her to an unfinished building on the outskirts of Tripoli near the city’s many ports, where the migrants they have already found are kept until the crossing is ready. The building could only be reached by walking down a trash-littered alleyway, and featured a series of packed rooms, separated by curtains, where dozens sat – well over the 80 migrants she was promised would be in her boat.

The smuggler explained that the “final price” for Syrians – often thought to be richer than their African migrant counterparts – was $1,000. He added that for each Syrian she brought with her, the producer would get a $100 discount. So if she brought 10, she could travel free.

He explained how the “discount” was “well known,” suggesting perhaps it was part of the unwritten rules that govern the trade and why so many migrants come to each boat.

Any fears about the crossing were supposed to be allayed by the smuggler insisting the boats they used had new motors, and that the Senegalese pilot would have a satellite telephone and GPS to assist the crossing. He also assured CNN’s producer, when asked, that if the people became too many, they would use two boats.

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