People Smuggling and Modern Slavery

On a visit to Barcelona, a colleague of mine from Lagos Business School casually met another Nigerian in the street. After chatting for a few minutes, her new friend asked in surprise: “… did you come here by plane?” The anecdote might sound funny but the reality it reflects is anything but. He was surprised because a vast number of Africans in Europe arrived by rickety boat brought by people-smugglers. Disturbingly, I find that the process of people-smuggling has parallels with modern slavery.

I’m particularly sensitive to the issue these days. Last week, I traveled to Sao Paulo with a group of students from IESE‘s GEMBA program where I visited the Afro-Brazilian Museum. Traces of slavery were patent there – traces not that different from today’s people-smuggling “business” – even if not exactly the same. For instance some paintings portrayed the slaves as anonymous, soulless. Concealing individuality was one way to deprive slaves of their human dignity – and indirectly, this was used to justify the trade.

Structure of a boat used for the slave trade (Afro-Brazilian Museum, Sao Paulo)
Structure of a boat used for the slave trade (Afro-Brazilian Museum, Sao Paulo)

Look at the data reported by the Financial Times (original source: the International Organization for Migration):

  • 1,727 migrants dead in the Mediterranean so far in 2015;
  • the death rate has increased from 0.2 % (Jan-Apr 2014) to 7.5 % (Jan-Apr 2015);
  • 170,100 migrants reached Italy in 2014, four times more than in 2013.

This suggests that cutting rescue budgets (as the EU did last year) doesn’t discourage migrants from taking risks with people smugglers. While EU officials try to devise appropriate solutions, the rest of us cannot remain blind to the reality.

So, what can we do? At the company level, one very basic thing is not take advantage of such desperate situations. On the contrary, let’s start thinking of projects with the potential to enhance Africa’s socioeconomic development (and that of other emerging regions) so that its people may find conditions for a dignified life there.

Meanwhile, and on an individual level, this comes to mind: when you see someone who looks like an immigrant, look them in the eye and smile at them wholeheartedly. This is one simple way to recognize them as unique human beings. And you’ll see a sign of appreciation in their face that will stay with you for quite a while.

Any other suggestions?

6 thoughts on “People Smuggling and Modern Slavery

  1. Dr. Arino, thank you for the piece especially the last part. Your suggestion seems a plausible remedy to people’s reflective attitude to immigrants, especially black Africans, in Barcelona for example. That is provided it could be done. I think stereotyping has eaten deep. Taking a ramble makes you a suspected pickpocket. I don’t know how it started hence my reservation but I find it debasing. I’m sure others too. I don’t think immigrants who have ‘conquered’ terrible sea waves to get here would be deterred by the body language of some Europeans. I doubt that.

    1. I’m glad you liked the post, Olu. Unfortunately, we tend to stereotype — and most times based on external appearance.
      I like what you say about these daring immigrants who have conquered the sea. In fact, this could be read as a strong signal of determination, a trait that can prove very valuable.

    1. Tanya, of course it’s different: that’s why I say that some traces are “not that different from today’s people-smuggling “business” – even if not exactly the same.” The point I want to make is that by taking advantage of a situation of desperation, smugglers are treating immigrants in a way that’s not fitting with their human dignity. Also, when one acts out of desperation, I’m not sure you’re behaving in a totally free manner… Needless to say, you may not share my views.

      1. to many african immigrants these smugglers are actually their saviors, people are basically looking for ways to go to europe or usa or any better country. as someone who initially moved from my country of birth through illegal means the first time i am thankful for the services these smugglers gave me. they enabled me to have a better life abroad. now that i am a legal immigrant after years of hard work. i am thankful.

        1. Selma, thank you for bringing the other side’s perspective… I’m glad to know that it wroked out for you and that now you’re a legal immigrant. I hope that one day the conditions in African countries will be such that people will have the means to have a decent life there.

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