How Has Covid-19 Affected Human Smuggling Operations Around The World?


The Coronavirus Pandemic has exerted immense pressure on all sectors and has hindered their functionalities. True by all means, the organizations’ human smuggling operations are going through toil to sustain as it yields them high income. However, the scenario is just the opposite for the dark web human traffickers. Aided by the internet, time and huge people roaming on the internet support the fast smuggle operation in the hidden segment of the internet.

This article deliberately describes the condition of the human smuggling operations in Mexico and draws a contrast with the state of dark web human trafficking. Most human trade takes place in the US-Mexico Border and thus we have used the concept here. Alongside, it mentions the plight of migrants and immigrants in the Covid-19 pandemic relating it to the human trade difficulties.

Situation Of Migrants & Immigrants In Mexico

The ongoing Covid-19 outbreak has likely deterred the United States’ condition and will seemingly deter in the coming weeks in respect to the migrants and immigrants. The factors that have pushed the situation to such extreme includes:

  • Fear of contracting Covid-19.
  • The economic instability of the United States.
  • Restrictions on the U.S. immigrations and asylum.

Worsened poverty and insecurity serve as the push factor for migrants, where they are likely to experience a “wait and see approach” in Central America and Mexico. They have adopted this approach for avoiding an expensive and tiring journey due to uncertain healthcare and economic prospects in the U.S.  

The Central American press coverage has indicated that the perceptions of the common migration pull factors like familial reunification and economic prosperity are altering. This is likely due to the entry restrictions and rising unemployment owing to Title 42 implementation across the U.S. Southwest Border.

Some of the Mexican and Honduran migrants are choosing to stay in their respective countries of origin. It has been noted that various prospective Honduran migrants have chosen to remain in Honduras owing to the fear of contracting the Covid-19 in the United States. Additionally, some of the Mexican nationalities have preferred to postpone their plans for illegally crossing the U.S. Southwest Border. Some illegal immigrants of the United States have planned to return to their Mexican hometowns adopting the wait and see approach.

However, extortions in the region still remain high despite the fact that some criminal organizations have delayed the extortion payments temporarily, as per the Central American and Mexican press. 

Why Is There Such A Hindrance In the Human Smuggling Operations?

It has been noted that several migrants are keen enough to enter the United States illegally. But, the regional government Covid-19 pandemic responses are already causing barriers in the human smuggling operations, primarily at the Southwest Border. The hindrance has been caused by stringent border restrictions, risks in health and the raised costs levied by the human smuggling organizations or the HSOs for all the prospective migrants. 

Excessive border security restrictions coming hand to hand with the novel coronavirus pandemic have exerted immense pressure on the HSOs, forcing them to shift or decrease their operations. Numerous HSOs have reduced their smuggling operations and relocated their operations to the more desolate and harsher terrain circumventing the U.S. law enforcement officials. This statement has been made by the multiple feds officers bearing indirect access and the CBP field reporting. Furthermore, the Mexican army has increased the patrols in the U.S. Mexico Border for preventing illegal immigration to the United States in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Simultaneously, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have spiked their border restrictions and have instituted widespread lockdowns.

Due to the Covid-19, probably the smuggling fees for the migrants are soaring continuously. The Northern Sonora smugglers have increased the costs substantially. The HSOs are also facing difficulties in locating the drivers for smuggling the migrants. Some organizations operating human smuggling operations have been forced to increase the drivers’ fees from $500 to $1,500. Additionally, the starting rate per migrant smuggled is costing them $3,000.

This marks the fact that the U.S. based migrants are unable to pay the steep smuggling fees as the remittances that the migrants entirely depends on a more extensive basis to fund their journey are certainly to decline their relatives in the struggle between the United States and the economic impact of the pandemic. 

The flow of the migrants per day has decreased to a more significant level as per the statistics. Mexico’s National Migration Institute has seen a decline, numbering an average of 152 migrants per day in which 19% apprehensions took place in South Mexico. In just three weeks’ gap (earlier phase), a stark difference is noted where earlier the average apprehension was 272 migrants per day where 60% were just in South Mexico.

What Is The Scenario With The Human Smuggling Operations In The Dark Web?

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the matters for the victims, and various countries have been experiencing a global rise in human trafficking in cyberspace in recent time. The online demand for human smuggling operations is being channeled via multiple social media platforms and dark web websites alongside the messaging platforms. These sites are facilitating easy access to the potential victims via the use of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC). With the extensive usage of encrypted services such as the different chat options like EncroChat, the perpetrators are getting the opportunity to mask their identity skillfully. 


The United Nations appointed independent rights experts’ panel has as well warned against the surged recruitment of vulnerable people by the human traffickers for sexually exploiting people via online dark web sites. There has been an increased demand for child sexual abuse materials, child pornography (CP) alongside tech-facilitated sex trafficking.

The law enforcement agencies have a couple of cases regarding the human smuggling operation on the dark web. Most of the dark web human trafficking occurs via false promises and is not restricted to specific geo-locations. The feds say that though the perpetrators use the Tor-based websites to interact and creatively place advertisements. But, it is possible for them to identify these perpetrators via specific language used in an ad or through the pictures or any other piece of evidence that they combine to acquire the perpetrators’ details. They say that even the emojis work for them.

Unfortunately, human trafficking and human smuggling operations are not limited to the darknet. The darknet is just the segment of the internet that limited people know of. Thus, human trafficking listings have also been spotted on Craigslist, Eros and Backpage. In few cases, prostitution has also been linked with human smuggling operations, both online and offline.

Emily Waters of Safe Center LI said, “In New York we frequently see immigrants from Asian countries and from Eastern European countries who come to the U.S. for a better life and are then taken by human smugglers who have brought them to the country.”

“As with other forms of illicit crime, human trafficking is becoming more nuanced and more difficult to identify,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. “Much of these activities are going underground and they’re going online.”

“It’s playing a whack-a-mole game,” Waters of Safe Center LI said. “For every one you take down, 10 more pop up. And again, it goes back to the demand issue. As long as there are people out there willing to pay for this, it’s going to exist.”

Although the human traffickers are taking the help of the hidden services and operate underground via underground forums and websites, proving themselves more competent, the police are getting even smarter to track them sooner or later. 

The Ignored Social Responsibility Must Be Restored!

The Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in appeal to messaging firms and social media companies, has recommended that they have set up relevant controls for reducing the risk of exposing girls and women to sexual exploitation and human trafficking. It has advised the online platforms to utilize their analytics, artificial intelligence and big data for identifying any pattern that may give shape to human trafficking and the identification of the involved parties in the illegal human smuggling operations.

The online firms are also required to implement appropriate governance structure and procedures that will permit them to be reactive in their response. It would provide the relevant information to all the concerned authorities. On sending a note to the Governments, CEDAW has advised the States to address the root causes that are forcing the girls and women into vulnerable situations.

“Trafficking is a gendered crime, closely linked to sexual exploitation”, CEDAW’s Leinarte said, insisting that State parties “must create appropriate conditions to ensure women and girls are free from the danger of trafficking”.

“Combating trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration requires engagement of the larger protection framework stemming from international humanitarian law, refugee law, criminal law, labour and international private law,” the Committee said in its general recommendation.

The smuggling network might sometimes be extensive and complex, comprising a number of people having different roles such as recruiters, intermediaries, boat captains, guides, drivers, people offering illegal travel documents and the people providing accommodation on the way. 

A joint report by the Interpol and Europol back in May 2016 had estimated that over 90% of the migrants coming to the E.U. had been facilitated mainly through the criminal network members. In some other cases, the migrants are forced to work for years in the illicit labour market for paying off the debts incurred due to their transportation. All of these are social negligence, be it online or offline and needs to be controlled.

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