Since 2011 Europe has faced a mounting migration crisis that has played out firstly on its borders, and then within them. A perfect storm of events, including the protracted war in Syria and subsequent mass displacement, instability caused by the Arab Spring, the disintegration of the Libyan state, the withdrawal of international troops in Afghanistan and persistent extremist insurgencies in sub-Saharan Africa, has prompted a scale of human movement that has not been seen since the end of World War II. In the past four years, more than a million citizens from four regions – the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the extra-Schengen area of Europe – have targeted central and northern European countries to claim refuge and seek new opportunities for themselves and their families. At the time of writing this report, the UN estimates that 700 000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea in 2015 alone. They are moving away from conflict, terrorism, repressive regimes and varying degrees of poverty and lack of opportunities towards the relative safety and prosperity of Europe. In doing so, many have put their lives at grave risk, while others have died as they seek to evade heightening physical and political barriers.
Those making the journey to Europe are assisted by a rapidly proliferating set of smuggling networks that have different shifting sets of motives, nationalities, ways of operating and levels of criminality. The failures of Europe and the broader international community allow these smugglers to benefit from exacerbating the crisis by inciting migration and using unscrupulous practices, such as abuse, extortion and violence, to seek profits.