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.
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