Book Launch: “Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour” by Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano

Book launches! They’re a thing!

So I seem to be going to a lot of book launches lately – they are such a great way to hear directly from the authors about their experiences writing, the research they’ve done, and the conclusions they’ve drawn.

Last night I went to the book launch of “Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour” by Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano. They talked about the research they conducted into the smuggling trade, the connection to highly sophisticated criminal networks, and how the smuggling trade is connected to migration and organized crime. They made some really excellent points, points that I’ve been thinking about myself, but obviously, made much more clearly.

They made clear that there is a distinction between a human smuggler and a trafficker; this is important to remember because many politicians are equating the two in discussing the “refugee crisis”. Smugglers are providing a service; this service is necessary because of policies criminalizing migration. By criminalizing migration, you end up criminalizing migrants themselves; by making people more desperate, you are directly pushing them into the path of the smugglers, but they are deciding to choose these services, they pay for a service and receive something in return. The difference with trafficking, is that people are in situations which they don’t choose – they are trafficked to a location they didn’t choose, they are forced to engage in activities they didn’t decide to do (i.e. sex work or forced labour), and their liberty is constrained. They presented an interesting analysis of the smuggling networks that have arisen out of the current situation – many smuggling networks are increasingly sophisticated and professional – using smartphones, QR codes, online money transfers and holding funds in a third-party account until the refugee reaches their destination safely and provides final access to the funds. But there are so many variations, based on what people can pay and what routes people take, that there are, of course, the cheap options which sees hundreds of people crammed on a broken down dinghy, almost certainly to capsize, where the smuggler doesn’t care about reputation, just cash up front. These cheaper options leave people much more vulnerable to being forced into a trafficked situation, where they pay large sums of money up front, but end up being forced into labour to actually work their way onto a boat, or trafficked to other locations, now that they have lost their financial bargaining power.

And a distinction also needs to be made between migrant and refugee. As I’ve mentioned in posts before, refugees are a legally protected group of people fleeing danger from their homelands. Migrants, economic migrants in particular, are those who have chosen to leave in search of better economic prosperity elsewhere. But the distinction becomes increasingly blurry as people are on the move. When a Syrian refugee, who initially moved into Lebanon or Jordan with savings, expecting the conflict not to last long, has run out of money, and decides to try to make it to Europe with the hope of stability, is their second journey one of an economic migrant or a refugee? And when a Somali migrant, in search of better economic prosperity, is captured, trafficked, and assaulted making their way to Egypt or Libya in order to make the Mediterranean crossing to Europe, is their second journey a continuation of the first, or are they now a persecuted refugee seeking sanctuary? Many on the move switch in and out of these categories of migrant/refugee, and it is a challenging endeavor to try and categorize these people….because at the core, these are people who are coming up against the immovable force of increasingly restrictive migration policies that are forcing people to take desperate steps. In the end, this is not a refugee crisis; it is the failure of providing accessible migration options, and it is the failure to ameliorate the conditions, economically, politically, and socially, that are driving people to go on the move in search of safety, stability, and prosperity.

All in all, this was a fascinating event, and I am looking forward to reading the book to get a better insight into the connections between organized crime, immigration policies, and the refugee crisis. As Peter and Tuesday concluded, smugglers may be “criminals”, but they are equally saviours to the people who have helped them reach safety.