Economist / African Arguments Review “Smuggler/Saviour’

by ptinti

The book I wrote with Tuesday Reitano received very nice reviews this week, one from African Arguments, a website that is a must read for policy-types who follow politics in Africa, and one from the Economist, a newspaper that needs no introduction.

From James Wan over at African Arguments:

This distinction is rarely clearer than in the new book Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour, which delves deep into this latter world and brings alive the complex reality of human smuggling and the many individuals involved in it.

Born of extensive on-the-ground research − spanning from West Africa across to North Africa, Turkey and Eastern Europe − this eminently readable and fascinating work by Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano explores how the multi-billion-dollar migrant smuggling industry operates and how it has shifted over the past few years.


Through observation, interviews with both migrants and smugglers, and occasionally by treading migratory paths themselves, Tinti and Reitano paint a rich picture of human smuggling and its protagonists across Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

But Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour does much more than just leave the reader with a colourful impression. It also unpacks close details of how the industry actually operates, how sophisticated networks have emerged to meet rising demand, and how certain rules and practices govern the business.


Tinti and Reitano approach the subject matter with the sensitivity of a confidant, the eye of a storyteller, and the analytical understanding of a researcher. However, by the end, they also convey the frustrations of an activist.

The book is certainly not a polemic, but one theme that runs through it is of how successive European responses have been ineffective at best and deeply destructive at worst. And in the concluding chapter, the authors cannot help but take aim at these ill-conceived policies, writing of how “Europe and its allies have doubled-down on short-sighted policies that are more costly and less effective in the long term”.

And from the Economist:

The most important causes of this migration are wars in places like Syria and Somalia, and demography and poor prospects across Africa and the Middle East. New enablers are vital too: mobile phones, the internet, WhatsApp and Facebook. What is less understood is how business has changed this world. In “Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour”, Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano, both researchers, explain how the numbers of people arriving in Europe have been made possible because of the emergence of innovative and opportunistic entrepreneurs.

People-smuggling is just another part of the vast decentralised organised-crime economy. Those in the trade are not necessarily evil or part of a grand conspiracy: they are ordinary folk drawn into organised crime by profits and the prospect of a better life. And policies, particularly in Europe, that are intended to stop migration often have the effect only of rendering it more exploitative and dangerous.

To make this argument, the authors leap around, with vivid reporting from Niger, Libya, the Balkans, Turkey and Egypt, among other places. Their primary focus is not the migrants, but the smugglers—the people who make it possible to get to countries without a visa or a passport. Crackdowns and demand stimulate supply. Both in Turkey and Libya, it was Syrian refugees—and their ability to pay tens of thousands of dollars—that drove smugglers to develop sophisticated systems. Some refugees are even given bar codes to scan when they arrive in Europe, which help release their payments from escrow. These were built on existing systems, particularly the hawala networks of informal money transfer used by merchants across the developing world.

The book’s key contention—that tighter rules inspire entrepreneurs to create new, more dangerous and criminal smuggling routes—is persuasive.

Many thanks to both outlets for taking the time to read and review the book.