Photo Essay: Confronting the Problem of Human Smuggling
Sicilian Arrival On March 18, 2002, Italian police stand by as more than 1,000 Kurdish refugees land at Catania, on Sicily's southeastern shore. Four days later, to deal with a recent surge in immigration, the Italian government declared a state of emergency, which gave police more power to manage the influx of immigrants. Italian officials also began discussing ways of addressing what it sees as a major problem with illegal migrants. One option discussed was withholding aid from nations it feels are not doing enough to prevent citizens from leaving illegally. Italian authorities have mentioned Turkey in this regard in particular. Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has criticized Italy for its policy toward asylum seekers, which grants refugee status to fewer applicants than most of Europe.
Photo: Tony Gentile/Reuters
Abandon Ships While government officials pass legislation and debate how to confront the ever-growing number of immigrants who enter Italy illegally, the tide of migrants shows no signs of subsiding. The Italian peninsula is a perfectly situated smuggling transit, a gateway to Western Europe for those traveling from North Africa, Albania, and Eastern Europe. Here, abandoned dinghies, a preferred method of migrant transport, collect in the harbor of the southern Italian island Lampedusa, a testament to the seemingly insurmountable task Italian authorities face -- one that is augmented by the forces of Italian organized crime, which often conspire with organized trafficking rings from Eastern Europe.
Photo: Tony Gentile/Reuters
Fingerprints An immigrant is fingerprinted by an Italian immigration official in a downtown district police station in Rome. Fingerprinting is now required of all foreign individuals who wish to live in Italy -- just one policy implemented in the last several years in the hopes of tightening Italy's borders. While just over two percent of the country's population consists of immigrants, illegal immigration has become a great national concern. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has come under fire from his own party for not addressing the issue in a more effective manner.
Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Off of Gilbratar The Strait of Gibraltar, between Spain and Morocco, is another prominent seaway portal into Western Europe for illegal migrants. Each year, dozens of immigrants from North and sub-Saharan Africa drown while attempting to make the seemingly brief crossing -- just eight miles at its narrowest point -- in small vessels. Here, Red Cross officials help North African immigrants ashore at Tarifa, Spain. This man was one of more than three hundred illegal immigrants on five ships that were intercepted in the strait in August of 2003. Spain has recently implemented an electronic radar surveillance system to prevent the arrival of migrants who local officials claim they are not prepared to handle. The Red Cross, meanwhile, maintains that conditions for those who do make it to Spain are deplorable.
Photo: Mike Hutchings/Reuters
Bound for Britain In December 2002, Kurdish Iraqi refugees celebrate their imminent departure for Britain at a Red Cross camp in Sangatte in northern France, an area where many asylum seekers hope to sneak aboard trains and trucks that travel across the English Channel Tunnel to Dover. The Red Cross set up a refugee camp at Sangatte in 1999 to accommodate these migrants, the majority of whom are Kurdish or Afghan refugees. Around 30,000 individuals passed through the controversial camp, which was closed down at the end of 2002 after Britain agreed to pass stringent immigration legislation and accept some 1,200 asylum seekers.
White Ships of Dover Many illegal migrants enter Great Britain at the Dover docks. In June 2000, this was the scene of an immigration disaster when 58 Chinese asylum seekers were found dead in the back of a refrigerated truck that was registered to a man from the Netherlands and had arrived from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. Several individuals in Britain, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong have since been jailed in association with the smuggling.
Photo: Jonathan Evans/Reuters
One Tight Container In late 2002, more than 20 Chinese immigrants from Fujian province of eastern China tried to smuggle themselves out of the country in this cargo vessel. On December 6, Chinese officials discovered the migrants at the Huangpu container port in Guangzhou, capital of China's Guangdong province. The container was headed for an unidentified Western country.
Texas Tragedy More and more, migrants -- whether they are from Asia, Europe, or South America -- head for the U.S. by way of Mexico. On May 18, 2003, 18 of 100 immigrants crammed into a truck that was abandoned on the outskirts of Victoria, Texas, were found dead of heat exhaustion. Another fatality several days later brought the death toll to 19. Though the truck was equipped with a refrigerator unit, it did not appear that the equipment was used during the transport of the ill-fated Mexican and Central American immigrants. Here, authorities in Texas move the bodies of the deceased illegal immigrants from the truck.
Photo: Joe Mitchell/Reuters
X-ray Vision This X-ray photo was taken in March 1999 by Mexican authorities, who said they caught 110 undocumented immigrants with the technology, which is also used to uncover illegal arms and narcotics. According to the 2003 U.S. State Department report on human trafficking, Mexican border officials turned back 15,000 undocumented aliens and hundreds of migrant smugglers in 2001. Yet Mexico still faces problems with traffickers from Guatemala who smuggle Central American women into the country to work as prostitutes.
Photo: Reforma Archivo/AP
On Duty Chris Simcox, leader of the Civil Homeland Defense, a group of volunteers dedicated to patrolling the Mexican border for illegal immigrants, looks across a patch of the southern Arizona border that is a known transit point for illegal migrants. Simcox, who feels the U.S. government is not doing enough to patrol the Mexican border, is also the publisher of the TOMBSTONE TUMBLEWEED, a local newspaper in Tombstone, Arizona, that covers local events, immigration in particular.