The $200 million a year refugee smuggling operation in Libya

By Christine Duhaime | May 27th, 2016

A $200 million a year business and growing 

The EU – Turkey deal to close the borders of the EU to refugees and migrants has shifted the human smuggling routes back to Libya. The focus back to Libya means ISIS’ large source of terrorist financing from this activity is flowing again, which may also facilitate ISIS moving their own people to the EU.

It is a concern for terrorist financing because ISIS is a transnational criminal organization (“TCO“)  operating in a growing number of places in the world with sophisticated unknown networks that move money, people, drugs and weapons. Those activities fill ISIS’ treasury, especially outside of Syria, allowing them to fund more acts of terrorism and expand their sphere of influence and correspondingly, inject vast sums through the financial system as proceeds of crime.

Large profits made by money laundering smugglers

Here are the financial numbers on the amount of terrorist financing and money laundering earned from the Libyan human smuggling operations:

  • 2015 – Revenues conservatively may be as high as $528,000,000 (derived from 330,000  migrants who apparently arrived in the EU from Libya and who paid, at the lowest end, $1,600 each for the trip. It does not include those who died and paid a fee regardless).
  • 2016 – Revenues year-to-date are likely $59,200,000 (derived from the rate of $1,600 with an estimated 37,000 migrants who have arrived from Libya to EU directly so far in 2016, not including the thousands who died or were arrested en route but paid for the journey).
  • May 2016 – Revenues for May alone are $17,600,000 ($1,600 per migrant  with 11,000 migrants who arrived in EU from Libya this month). If the trend continues, the amount may be as high as $210,000,000 for 2016.
  • Two Libyan men, Medhanie Yehdego Mered and Ermias Ghermay, with alleged ties to ISIS, and who are part of a large TCO, are said to be behind much of the early human smuggling operations in Libya and earned a total of $2,000,000,000 from human smuggling of migrants.

Europol estimates that the human smuggling of refugees and migrants to the EU is netted traffickers between $1,000,000,000 to $6,000,000,000 last year from all areas, not just Libya, and the payments surprising, come from relatives in the West, such as the US, who pay even though they know the payments are for terrorists or those affiliated with terrorist organizations and that the payments are for illegal human smuggling. This means, of course, that banks in the West are being used to send funds for the illegal human smuggling of refugees and migrants that may fund terrorism.

According to reports, Eritreans pay $5,400 to be trafficked, not $1,600 applicable to other migrants, an amount that is 8 times the average annual income of an Eritrean, suggesting that funds are indeed coming from the West to move them to the EU with TCOs.

The unfortunate Canadian connection

One of the Libyan smugglers who is said to allegedly have ties to terrorists, Medhanie Yehdego Mered, aka Mered Medhanie, also known as “The General”, may operate in Canada as well. He was recorded on a wire tap saying he would invest $170,000 in Canada – part of the proceeds of crime from trafficking migrants from Libya to the EU. He also is heard on wiretap saying that $7,800 is the price to smuggle a person into Canada illegally using fake passports from the US or Italy (see Globe & Mail article here).

In order to be investing in Canada, he would need a bank account, a lawyer, a securities broker or realtor. The other, Ermias Ghermay, also has a Canadian connection – one of his operatives told Italian police that they arrange for people to be smuggled into Mexico and Canada with fake Italian passports. The operative of Ghermay also claimed to have smuggled himself into Canada. A third Libyan smuggler is recorded as saying that it’s easier to get into Canada illegally than the US.

Mered is believed to be the kingpin smuggler who arranged for the boat that sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013 in which 359 migrants died when the boat capsized and laughed about their deaths when he learned of it.

He allegedly parked his wife in Sweden as a fake refugee, with some of his proceeds of crime.

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