peter tinti

independent journalist

Nearly There, but Never Further Away

Foreign Policy

Europe has outsourced the dirty work of border control to Libyan militias. In doing so, it has turned African migrants into commodities to be captured, sold, and traded like slaves.

TRIPOLI, Libya — The guard forced the migrants to kneel and began barking orders in Arabic, a language that few of the once-hopeful souls who had traveled to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa spoke. A gaunt, elderly man in ripped jeans and a tattered T-shirt failed to comply. The guard, wearing a crisp new uniform emblazoned with the insignia of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police division, raised his wooden club and brought it down hard on the man’s back, driving him face down into the ground with the first blow.

It was early May, three weeks after the staff at the Triq al-Sikka migrant detention center in the Libyan capital of Tripoli had received human rights training from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The guard struck the elderly man again on the back and clubbed the back of his legs. Then he moved methodically down the line of kneeling migrants, beating each man as if he were responsible for his fellow prisoner’s infraction. Cries of pain echoed through the barren, warehouse-like facility, where more than 100 half-starved migrants were locked away in crowded cells. Some had been there for months, enduring regular beatings and surviving on a few handfuls of macaroni and a single packet of juice each day. Others had recently been rounded up off the streets in raids targeting black African migrants.

Soon after the beatings began, other guards at the facility noticed my presence and quickly ushered me into a waiting area outside the well-appointed office of Col. Mohamed Beshr, the urbane head of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police. Beshr is a key player in recent joint EU-Libyan efforts to halt migration to Europe, including intercepting migrants at sea and detaining them on land. He has welcomed high-level European diplomats and U.N. representatives to the Triq al-Sikka facility, and his office is filled with certificates from workshops run by IOM, the European Union, and Britain’s development agency.

Yet Beshr seemed frustrated by my questions about the abuses openly taking place at the detention center he oversaw. To hear him tell it, his European partners cared about only one thing, even if they wouldn’t say it: preventing migrants from showing up on Italy’s shores. “Are they looking for a real solution to this humanitarian crisis?” Beshr asked, smirking and raising his eyebrows. “Or do they just want us to be the place where migrants are stopped?”

Eighteen months after the EU unveiled its controversial plan to curb illegal migration through Libya — now the primary point of departure for sub-Saharan Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe — migrants have become a commodity to be captured, sold, traded, and leveraged. Regardless of their immigration status, they are hunted down by militias loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed government, caged in overcrowded prisons, and sold on open markets that human rights advocates have likened to slave auctions. They have been tortured, raped, and killed — abuses that are sometimes broadcast online by the abusers themselves as they attempt to extract ransoms from migrants’ families.

The detention-industrial complex that has taken hold in war-torn Libya is not purely the result of a breakdown in order or the work of militias run amok in a state of anarchy. Visits to five different detention centers and interviews with dozens of Libyan militia leaders, government officials, migrants, and local NGO officials indicate that it is the consequence of hundreds of millions of dollars in pledged and anticipated support from European nations as they try to stem the flow of unwanted migrants toward their shores.

Click here to continue reading. 

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The Savior’s Dilemma

Foreign Policy

Are naval search-and-rescue operations saving migrants’ lives — or just encouraging them to take greater risks?

TRIPOLI, Libya — At 7:42 a.m. on May 10, Sea-Watch, a German aid organization that conducts search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean just outside Libya’s territorial waters, got word of a migrant boat in distress. The crew aboard the 100-foot rescue vessel sprang into action, dispatching speedboats to bring life jackets to the more than 350 migrants who were packed into a rickety wooden boat. But just as aid workers were preparing to begin the rescue operation, a battleship commanded by the Libyan navy cut their vessel off, narrowly avoiding a high-speed collision.

Upon reaching the migrant boat, the commander of the Libyan battleship, Abujella Abdul-Bari, cocked his pistol and pointed it at the migrants in a scene that was captured by a German film crew on board. Rescuers from Sea-Watch disengaged immediately, afraid that the confusion could lead to migrant deaths, as had happened in a similar incident between Sea-Watch and the Libyan coast guard in October 2016. Had things played out only slightly differently that morning, the roughly 400 migrants on board the distressed boat would have been on their way to Europe; instead, they were headed back to the country they had risked everything to flee.

Click here to continue reading. 

Interview w/ The Reading Lists

Phil Treagus over at The Reading Lists asked me about the types of books I read, my reading habits, the books I recommend and the books that have influenced me the most. There are so, so many more to list, but here are ones that got mentioned in this interview. Check out the full interview, by clicking here, in order to see why I recommended them:

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

The Village of Waiting by George Packer

The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam

Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

King Leopold’s Ghosts by Adam Hochschild

Ghost Wars by Steve Coll

Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America by Ioan Grillo

A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America by Oscar Martinez

The Heart that Bleeds by Alma Guillermoprieto

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Smuggler/Savior on Global Dispatches, WNYC

I’ve been a bit negligent on blog updates, but just wanted to alert folks to two recent interviews I did to coincide with the US release of Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler Savior.

The most recent was for WNYC’s The Takeaway. It was an honor to sit down in studio with the one and only John Hockenberry. We chatted for about a half-hour, and you can listen to the segment that aired on Thursday by clicking on this link.

For a longer interview, check out the one I did with Mark Leon Goldberg over at Global Dispatches. Mark has everyone from world leaders to leading intellectuals as guests on his show, and I’m so grateful that he took the time to chat with me about the book. Follow this link to give it a listen.

Smuggler/Savior Drops in the US

Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Savior is now out in the US. Pick-up a copy at all good bookstores, or order one online. The US edition is also available via Kindle, for those who prefer e-readers.

Many thanks to those who purchase the book. I hope you enjoy it. For those who have already finished it, or read the UK version, I would be grateful if you could hop over to Amazon.com and leave a review. I don’t pretend to know how Amazon’s algorithms work, but people who do tell me that reviews, especially verified ones, can go a long way. Cheers!

More Great Reviews of Smuggler/Saviour

Delighted to see three more great reviews over the past few weeks for Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour. 

First, from the Financial Times:

“Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour argues that the world needs to understand how networks of traffickers function if it is to get to grips with this migration crisis. Co-authors Tinti and Reitano … use a mixture of reportage, first-hand accounts from migrants and extensive research to uncover a series of complex transnational industries that exist to help migrants bypass barriers — whether geographic, man-made or political — for a profit.”

The next two from Foreign Policy and International Journalists’ Network, both of which included Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour on “best of” lists for 2016.

From Foreign Policy‘s “What Foreign Policy Staff Read in 2016“:

Migration issues in Europe often break through the news cycle at the most dramatic and tragic points: Refugees charging through barbed wire as border police try to keep them out, or a drowned child washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean. But the journey in search of safe haven and economic opportunity begins long before boarding a boat to reach Europe’s shores. Tinti and Reitano’s book is a must-read for anyone trying to understand the mechanics of the migration crisis in a wider perspective. By focusing in on the conflicted role of the smuggler (who often doubles as a savior for those he is transporting), Tinti and Reitano shed light on one of the most under-examined facets of the ongoing crisis: A multibillion dollar industry of criminal networks that function as a last resort for people in dire circumstances when few legal migration pathways exist. The book isn’t just rigorously researched and packed with fascinating details, but clearly benefits from a reporter’s eye, weaved throughout with gripping first-hand accounts. While Europe’s leaders often respond to the “refugee crisis” with calls to tamp down on the flow of “illegal migrants” and the “traffickers” who abet them, Tinti and Reitano reach beyond those stale labels to help readers understand the nuanced incentives driving the migrant industry.

And from International Journalists’ Network list of the “Best Investigative Journalism of 2016“:

As millions of people from the Middle East and Africa struggle to seek refuge from conflict, oppression, natural disasters, poverty and hunger, their movements are enabled and encouraged by an organized criminal network of people smuggling, kidnapping and extorting money from refugees crossing into Europe. “Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Savior” tells the story of this complex underground economy.

Peter Tint and Tuesday Reitano, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime investigators who drew worldwide media attention to one of the most under-examined aspects of the global refugee crisis, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and the BBC that the Mafia earns billions of dollars from this insidious new trade over the death of thousands of migrants.

The book is currently available in the UK. Pick it up at your local bookstore or order it from amazon.co.uk or directly from the Hurst website. The US/Canada release is slated for April 1st and is already available for pre-order on amazon.com.

In Niger, anti-smuggling efforts risk trading one crisis for another

African Arguments 

With unprecedented flows of irregular migrants from Africa to Europe, EU policymakers are eager to work with governments in source and transit countries to stem migrant arrivals from the continent. Having seen its controversial €6 billion ($6.4 billion) agreement with Turkey prove effective in dramatically reducing migrant arrivals via Turkey (for now), the EU is seeking to buy similar cooperation from African governments.

In October 2015, the EU launched the multi-billion Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to “tackle the root causes” of irregular migration, with a particular emphasis on the Sahel and Lake Chad Region, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. Additionally, the EU has negotiated bilateral compacts with countries such as Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia as part of its Migration Partnership Framework, which lists “breaking the business model of smugglers” and enhanced “cooperation on returns and readmission of irregular migrants” among its goals.

Yet within this web of frameworks and agreements, Libya, the principle point of departure for maritime crossings from Africa via the Central Mediterranean, remains a policy black hole. Insecurity and a lack of a central government preclude meaningful partnerships, so instead European policymakers have turned their attention to Libya’s southern neighbour, Niger, which has seen hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants from throughout West Africa pass through its territory on their way to Libya since 2012.

Click here to continue reading. 

Smuggler/Saviour on CNN and BBC

As part of a short trip to the UK in late October to promote Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour, Tuesday Reitano and I appeared on CNN’s Amanpour and BBC.

You can watch the CNN segment here, and the BBC one here.

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:

new_international_smuggler_saviour

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.

-pt

 

 

 

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 Amazon.co.uk. *UPDATE: You can now pick up a copy in the US, under its American spelling (“Savior”) at Amazon.com.

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.

-pt

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

Politico

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.

Click here to continue reading

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

VICE

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.