peter tinti

independent journalist

Economist / African Arguments Review “Smuggler/Saviour’

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.

Book Review in New Internationalist

Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour just received a five star review in New Internationalist, labelling it “Powerful analysis, groundbreaking research, vividly and journalistically expressed” and “a must-read for policy makers and anyone who wants a more truthful approach to a defining story of our age.”

Here’s the full review:


Pick up a copy of Migrant, Refugee, Smuggle, Saviour here or here, or at your nearest bookstore in the UK. The US edition of the book, under the title Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Savior, will be released by Oxford University Press in March, 2016.


1/3 off the price + free shipping, worldwide

My forthcoming book with Tuesday Reitano, titled Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour is available for 1/3 off the list price plus free shipping, worldwide, through the Hurst & Co website. This fantastic deal only lasts until October 3rd, so be sure to place your order before then.

Click here to order.





Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour

Migrant-Refugee_print-webI am delighted to announce that a book I wrote with Tuesday ReitanoMigrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour will be published in October by C. Hurst & Co. The UK release is slated for September 6, and you can pre-order it now either through the Hurst website or via

So far, we have received very positive reviews from several authoritative figures in the fields of migration and transnational organized crime:

“A graphic and highly readable account of the global human smuggling industry which dispels many of the myths surrounding this issue. Investigative journalism at its very best.”

— Jeff Crisp, Research Associate, Chatham House, and former Head of Policy Development and Evaluation, UNHCR

“This is a fascinating, nuanced and highly necessary account of an underworld that is much discussed but little understood, written by two of the leading experts in the field. I highly recommend it.”

— Patrick Kingsley, Migration Correspondent, The Guardian

“Tinti and Reitano offer a vivid virtual reality tour of the present-day odysseys of irregular migrants, from Aleppo and Agadez to Austria and the Arctic. Through their expert interpretation, we discover just how poorly our rigid labels capture the complexities of these informal political economies — and just how easily criminalisation can feed the smuggling industry it is meant to undermine.”

— James Cockayne, Head of Office at the UN, UN University, and author of Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organised Crime

“Tinti and Reitano’s book brings to life the tragic dimensions of the current refugee crisis and the smugglers who are an indispensable element in the refugees’ mobility. Grounded in a deep knowledge of the economics, politics and corruption behind this business, the authors present an account that is both readable but contains profound insights.”

— Louise Shelley, Director, Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, George Mason University

“Migration is one of today’s game-changers and this book, rich in detail and well documented, excels in reminding the reader that migration reflects a basic human aspiration — the desire for dignity and security, but more particular, that for a better life. If this sounds familiar, it should—and no law is to change this.”

— Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director Policy Analysis and Public Affairs, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

“A compelling and fresh perspective on migration, the business of smuggling and the risks people are willing to take for a chance at a better life. Reitano and Tinti have set the bar on empirical research interwoven with the often tragic stories of migrants and smugglers. A must read.”

— Anton du Plessis, Executive Director, Institute for Security Studies

Details of the US release are still being ironed out, but it should be available stateside in the early Spring. I’ll certainly keep you posted, but in the meantime, feel free to pick up a copy at the links above.


Survive and Advance: The Economics of Smuggling Refugees and Migrants into Europe

Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime / Institute for Security Studies

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.

Click here to continue reading and here for the full pdf.

Making sense of the Mali attack


What’s worrying about the assault isn’t the target. It’s the timing.

When the world woke up to news of a terrorist attack at a luxury hotel in the West African country of Mali, there was a natural impulse to consider the attacks in the context of Paris. As with the massacre at the Bataclan theatre, the assailants in Bamako held hostages for hours before Malian Special Forces secured the building with the help of French and American Special Forces. The symmetry of the two attacks, combined with the fact that France maintains a sizeable military presence in the former French colony, lent itself to speculation on how the violence in Bamako might be related to Paris and ISIL.

Yet as more details emerged, and Al Mourabitoun — an Al-Qaeda affiliate that considers itself an ISIL rival rather than an ally — took credit for the attacks, implicit linkages to Paris became more tenuous.

We can find some comfort in knowing that ISIL is not behind every dark terror plot, but there is little comfort to be found in grappling with the implications of Friday’s attacks and what they represent for Mali and the international community going forward. Paris and ISIL, it turns out, are part of this story, but not in the way you might think.

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Ghosts of Boko Haram: How Nigerian Refugees Are Coping in the Wake of the Baga Massacre


Madi Musa was on his way to the market when he heard gunshots. His instinct was to run. It wasn’t the first time that insurgents from Boko Haram had attacked his hometown of Baga, in northeastern Nigeria, and Musa figured he would follow the blueprint that had kept him alive thus far.

Musa would run to the lake and wait for the shooting to stop. He would return home to find his wife and five children. He would live in fear, but he would tend to his onion gardens and oversee his stall in the local market. His children would go to school and life would return to normal.

But the Saturday, January 3, attack on Baga was different from the ones before. The Boko Haram fighters broke from their usual routine and the gunshots gradually moved closer to the lake, where Musa and thousands of others had gathered. When the turbaned gunmen arrived at the shore, they fired indiscriminately.

“Men, women, children, anything that moved,” Musa tells me, his frenzied eyes darting left to right, right to left. On that day, Musa recalls, it seemed Boko Haram’s goal was not to occupy or plunder, but to kill.

Click here to continue reading. 

Lines in the Sand, VICE on HBO

For those who have a subscription to HBO or have access to an HBO password, please check out a film I worked on for Episode 4 of this season’s VICE on HBO. The segment focuses on cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe via West Africa, and the extent to which armed Islamist groups profit from these networks. I’m credited as a consulting producer. You won’t see me on camera, but I’m lurking behind the scenes. Check out the sneak peek below:

A Postcard from Guantánamo: How Mohamedou Ould Slahi Became a Suspected Terrorist, Then a Best-Selling Author


It was a simple prayer. Every day, Mariem Mint Elwadia asked God for the same thing: She wanted to see her son, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, just one more time before she died.

The last time she laid eyes on him, Slahi was on his way to the police station for questioning, an inconvenience that had become somewhat routine back then, in November 2001. It was just after dusk on the outskirts of Nouakchott, the dusty capital of the arid West African nation of Mauritania. Slahi had come home from work and was preparing to shower when the police arrived at the family home. As usual, he drove his own car to the police station.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon,” the 30-year-old told his family. But Slahi never returned. His car sat idle in the police parking lot for weeks, and Mauritanian authorities refused to provide his family with any information on his whereabouts.

Sixteen months later, in March 2003, a 4-by-6 postcard arrived at the house. It didn’t offer much in the way of details. At the top right sat an 80-cent stamp from the US that featured a picturesque mountain vista. The return address read 160 Camp X-Ray, Washington, DC 20353, USA. The postmark, dated 2002, suggested the card had been sent via the US Postal Service. In a section labeled “camp,” there was a four-letter acronym penned in narrow, inelegant handwriting.

It read “GTMO.”

Mohamedou Ould Slahi had become a Guantánamo Bay detainee, and his mother found out through a postcard.

“I am writing this postcard for the fourth time, and I have not received any response from you. I do not know if you are receiving these cards or not,” Slahi wrote on the back. “I do not know if God will help me and deliver me from this injustice, but in any case, be patient and invest time in prayer.”

At the time, Elwadia could not have known that US intelligence officials considered her son to be a key player in al Qaeda’s European and North American operations and a central figure in the 9/11 attacks. Nor could she have known that Slahi would be tortured for months at a time over the course of several years, or that a judge would order his release, or that that decision would be cruelly reversed. And no one could have predicted that Slahi would become a New York Times best-selling author from inside the walls of the world’s most infamous prison. But there is little about the globe-spanning life of Mohamedou Ould Slahi that follows a straight line, which is why his story, steeped in unknowable complexity and murky details, is perhaps the perfect parable of the post-9/11 era.

Click here to continue reading. 

Tackling Ebola, One Broadcast at a Time

Foreign Policy

Health workers aren’t the only ones fighting Ebola — so are radio journalists, hip-hop singers, and imams.

Guéckédou, Guinea — Diallo Fatou Traoré stands at the entrance of a rural radio station, of which she is the director, and asks that everyone entering use a hand-washing station. In less tenuous times, such a request would be unfathomably rude. But here in Guinea’s southeastern Forestière region, the heart of the current Ebola epidemic, extreme caution has become the norm

Traoré and her team of 18 journalists, technicians, and on-air presenters are probably not the first people who come to mind when thinking about those on the front lines of the battle against Ebola, but each have been deeply engaged in fighting the spread of the disease. “We had seven cases and four dead at the start, and people did not believe in Ebola,” says Traoré, who recalls people calling into her station with personal theories and anecdotes. “We started interactive programming with a doctor answering questions and responding to phone calls, and the mentality changed.”

Across Guinea, it is ordinary citizens like Traoré who are fighting Ebola despite limited resources and no prior experience with the virus. Attention and praise are rightly given to the health workers risking their lives to treat the sick; across West Africa, 382 health workers had become infected and 216 had died as of Oct. 1, according to the World Health Organization. But countless other people from a range of backgrounds — journalists, religious leaders, artists — have been doing their own small part to combat the disease, even as national and international leaders have equivocated and global health organizations dithered.

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The Toxic Politics of Ebola

Foreign Policy

In Guinea, the epidemic isn’t just killing people. It’s threatening to tear the country apart.

Guéckédou, Guinea — Thérèse Moundekeno was a pharmacy student in Conakry, Guinea’s coastal capital city, when she received a phone call in April advising her to do everything possible to come home to Guéckédou, a city deep in the country’s southeastern Forestière region. It was the latest in a string of bad news for Moundekeno, whose sister and brother-in-law had died of a mysterious illness weeks earlier. Now her mother had fallen sick. By the time Moundekeno could leave school and make the daylong trip back to Guéckédou by public transport, her mother was dead.

When she arrived at the hospital, a doctor with the organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) refused Moundekeno’s request to see her mother’s body. “He told me the same virus that killed your mother can kill you,” she recalls.

For her mother’s funeral, Moundekeno says she had little choice but to eschew local traditions and her religious beliefs, which would require her to clean and dress her mother’s body before burying it. It was an agonizing decision, made all the more painful when she saw her mother’s cadaver loaded into the hospital vehicle in a graceless body bag rather than vibrant traditional fabrics.

“When the vehicle arrived at the cemetery, everyone dispersed,” Moundekeno says, holding back tears. “Everyone.”

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Sketches of West Florissant Avenue


Amid the teargas and rubber bullets on West Florissant Avenue were the less tangible, but no less real complexities that my camera could not capture. What follows is the humble observations of an outsider who spent seven days in Ferguson, made possible by your support.

Ferguson, Mo. — By the time I arrived at the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive, Michael Brown’s death was already a national story. Not because the unarmed black teen was shot several times in broad daylight by a white police officer named Darren Wilson, but because the violent clashes between protesters and police in the wake of his death made for must-see TV.

Crowds had gathered to call for justice for Michael Brown, which in the short term, meant calling for the arrest of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him.  In response, police dressed like soldiers pointed sniper rifles at unarmed citizens. They deployed tear gas. They fired rubber bullets. They lobbed stun grenades at unsuspecting citizens and used something called a “sound cannon” to disperse crowds.

During my seven days in Ferguson, my dispatches from West Florissant Avenue focused on these dynamics. They emphasized the weapons of war, the looting and Molotov cocktails, and the tension between police officers and protesters. But these raw moments, while compelling and important, are only one part of the story unfolding on West Florissant Avenue.

What follows are notes from West Florissant Avenue that eschew play-by-play reporting in favor of something less tangible, but no less real. They do not aspire to tell the whole story, but to shed light on the underlying complexities that my camera could not capture. They are the humble observations of an outsider.

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The US and France Are Teaming Up to Fight A Sprawling War on Terror in Africa


In July of this year, France launched Operation Barkhane, an ambitious counterterrorism initiative spread across five countries in Africa’s Sahel and Sahara regions. The mission seeks to build upon the success of the French military intervention that drove al Qaeda-linked jihadi militants from northern Mali in 2013, and comes at a time when the US is expanding its own counterterrorism operations on the continent, setting the stage for what some analysts consider a burgeoning Franco-American alliance in Africa.

“This is a new chapter in French-American relations,” Michael Shurkin, a former CIA analyst who is now a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, told VICE News. “There is an unprecedented level of cooperation going on.”

In an August 11 memo to US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama, citing an “unforeseen emergency,” authorized the transfer of up to $10 million “to assist France in its efforts to secure Mali, Niger, and Chad from terrorists and violent extremism.” The move hints at a division of labor in which the US foots the bill for a cash-strapped French military that is both logistically and politically better placed than the US to engage in combat operations in the Sahel.

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The New French Militarism In the Sahel


France’s new counterterrorism mission in the Sahel represents a stunning rejection of recent French policy toward the African continent, and with its commitment to actively hunting and killing terrorists, Opération Barkhane could radically alter security dynamics throughout the region.

French government officials recently unveiled plans to launch a new counterterrorism initiative in the Sahel, code-named Opération Barkhane.The mission consists of over 3,000 troops spread across five countries who, according to The Economist, will be supported by 20 supply helicopters, ten transport aircraft, six fighter planes, three drones, and 200 armored vehicles.

Although the bulk of the forces and equipment required for Barkhane are already on the ground in Africa, it would be a mistake to characterize the operation as a mere reshuffling of French military assets in the region. In fact, Barkhane represents a stunning rejection of recent French policy toward Africa, which in turn was meant to be a departure from France’s previous post-colonial posture toward the continent.

“The objective is principally one of counterterrorism,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Paris last month. “The aim is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffic to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups can rebuild themselves between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean.”

Click here to continue reading.

The Untold Stories of World War I in Africa

The World War I in Africa Project is an ambitious initiative by Kathleen Bomani and Jacques Enaudeau, who seek not to commemorate the passing of World War I, but to restore its meaning by challenging “boilerplate narratives” and finding new narrators.

As the project’s website explains, two million African soldiers, workers and porters participated in the war, yet their story remains largely ignored to this day. “Europe’s 20th century started in 1914, and the yoke of colonialism steered Africa along for the ride,” Bomani and Enaudeau write. “Battles between the French, British, Belgian, German and Portuguese colonial empires pitted Africans against each other on their own soil,” they continue.

Tens of thousands of African lives were lost, while migration trends were set, economies transformed, and borders redefined all as a result of “the war to end all wars.”

Both Ms. Bomani and Mr. Enaudeau were kind enough to speak with me via skype. You can listen to the interview by clicking on this link.