OSINT and human smuggling

  • Social media is also employed to connect migrants with smugglers;

  • Human smugglers have developed numerous alternative migration networks and informal national and international contacts to assist them, using social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp to facilitate the process; Facebook has been identified as the preferred platform for the recruitment and initial advertising of services. Facebook also facilitates an online market for buying and selling counterfeit or look-alike passports that are posted in closed groups where they show the quality of the work;

  • Smugglers post on Facebook their proposed migration routes and prices along with contact details. Once contact has been established over platforms, such as Facebook, users switch to private communication apps like Viber and WhatsApp or meet face to face;

  • Names on Facebook posts are changed constantly and many accounts have a short life span, both measures seem to be a precaution against detection;

  • Migrants are forced to raise ransom money (using their mobile phones and social media accounts) demanded by their smuggling networks, as sometimes occurs;

  • Migrants often have to rely on information provided by smugglers. Smugglers usually have detailed knowledge about asylum policies in the areas in which they operate, including the opening and closing of border crossings; they know for which countries visas are required and with which countries readmission agreements have been signed;

  • Smugglers do not always share their information with migrants. In some cases, smugglers provided migrants very precise information, including how to dress, behave and respond to questioning by border authorities. However, there were also cases when migrants were provided wrong information or no information at all;

  • The relationship between smugglers and smuggled migrants is very important to understand how much information will be provided. Smugglers who are embedded in migrants’ networks are more likely to provide accurate information, while where the relationship is more anonymous, things are more likely to go wrong;

  • Migrants can easily share the contact details of smugglers while on the road;

  • Smugglers use social media to offer their services more effectively. They use platforms, such as Facebook pages to advertise their services and sometimes make offers for certain destinations; In some cases, smugglers offer packages that start from the lowest price (e.g. travelling on foot) until a very higher price or even VIP packages (e.g. being taken by plane or via car to the country of destination); using social media they can quickly change their offers in response to policy measures and shifting routes;

  • Offers are listed with a departure point and arrival country, as well as a vague indication of the types of border crossings, involved such as land, sea, or air. These descriptions are located directly next to the prices;

  • Migrants use Facebook groups, to check the reliability and trustworthiness of certain smugglers and share information on who is best to contact. Smugglers who succeed in delivering their clients to the preferred destination will be considered more reliable and will therefore be more successful in obtaining new clients through the social network of former ones; migrants also use social media (e.g. YouTube) to warn about the risks of irregular migration and particular smugglers through recorded testimonies of victims;

  • Migrants can also travel on their own, and smugglers will send them occasional text messages via WhatsApp and Telegram to guide them remotely or share maps with directions;

  • WhatsApp and Telegram also enable smugglers to post screenshots of conversations with clients, while they were en route, a procedure which they employ to demonstrate their trustfulness to new clients

  • Mobile technology enables migrants to be more flexible and adapt their travel plans on the basis of changing circumstances, with some only relying on smugglers for certain elements of the journey, such as particular border crossings or the purchase of forged documents.


Alberola, C., & Janssen, C. (2019). Action knowledge transfer on migrant smuggling and trafficking by air and document fraud. Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, International Centre for Migration Policy Development.

Campana, P. & Gelsthorpe, L. (2020). Choosing a smuggler: decision-making amongst migrants smuggled to Europe. European Journal of Criminal Policy and Research. DOI: 10.1007/s10610-020-09459-y.

Dekker, R., Engbersen, G., Klaver, J., & Vonk, H. (2018). Smart refugees: how Syrian asylum migrants use social media information in migration, in Beyond Networks, Militias and Tribes: Rethinking EU Counter-Smuggling Policy and Response decision-making. Social Media + Society, 4(1). DOI: 10.1177/2056305118764439.

Diba, P., Papanicolaou, G., & Antonopoulos, G. A. (2019). The digital routes of human smuggling? Evidence from the UK. Crime prevention and community safety, 21(2), pp. 159-75.

Frouws, B., Phillips, M., Hassan, A., & Twigt, M. (2016). Getting to Europe the ‘WhatsApp’ Way: The Use of ICT in Contemporary Mixed Migration Flows to Europe. Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat Briefing Paper, 2016, DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2862592.

Koser, K., & Pinkerton, C. (2002). The social networks of asylum seekers and the dissemination of information about countries of asylum. Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-social-networks-of-asylum-seekers-and-the-of-of-Koser-Pinkerton/036d1141dd8240ab82f1d1ee35dc627ede2daa5a [accessed on 10 June 2022].

Sanchez, G., Arrouche, K., Capasso, M., Dimitriadi, A., Fakhry, A. (2021). Beyond Networks, Militias and Tribes: Rethinking EU Counter-smuggling Policy and Response. European Institute of the Mediterranean. Available at: https://www.euromesco.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/RETHINKING-EU-COUNTER-SMUGGLING-POLICY-AND-RESPONSE-1.pdf [accessed on 9 June 2022].

Sanchez, G., Hoxhaj, R., Nardin, S., Geddes, A., Achilli, L., & Sona Kalantaryan, R. (2018). A study of the communication channels used by mi-grants and asylum seekers in Italy, with a particular focus on online and social media. European Commission. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/e-library/multimedia/publications/study-communication-channels-used-migrants-asylum-seekers-italy-particular-focus-online-social-media_en [accessed on 9 June 2022].

Tesfaye, A.B. (2020). Social Media, Migration and Xenophobia in the Horn of Africa. In: Moyo, D., Mpofu, S. (eds) Mediating Xenophobia in Africa. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, pp.307 – 322.

UNHCR, (2017). From a refugee perspective: Discourse of Arabic speaking and Afghan refugees and migrants on social media from March to December 2016. UNHCR. Available at: https://www.unhcr.org/publications/brochures/5909af4d4/from-arefugee-perspective [accessed on 3 May 2022].

Zijlstra, J., & van Liempt, I. (2017). Smart(phone) travelling: understanding the use and impact of mobile technology on irregular migration journeys. Int. J. Migration and Border Studies, Vol. 3, Nos. 2/3, pp.174–191.

Migration-Related Risks Caused by Misconceptions of Opportunities and Requirement

MIRROR has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation action program under grant agreement No 832921.

© All rights reserved