ERBIL/ISTANBUL/ATHENS - The complexity and dangers along migration routes to Europe —including the risk of being swindled by traffickers or robbed by security forces—, have increased the role of an informal banking system that works through “hawala”, a traditional money transfer system based on interpersonal trust
Hawala money dealers have become vital middlemen between migrants and smugglers, facilitating payments without leaving a trail for security and law enforcement. But difficulties in tracing hawala payments has also made it a banking system which enables human trafficking and money laundering.
This joint investigation, carried out over the past year by a team of six journalists along the migration route that has brought thousands of people from Northern Iraq to the UK, exposes how Europe and UK's migration policies have made migrants fall prey to unscrupulous smugglers and to trust hawala as the only way to mitigate the risk of being scammed by them.
The journalists have investigated on the ground in Erbil and Ranya (Iraq), Istanbul (Turkey), Athens (Greece), southern Italy, Calais and Dunkirk (France) and London (UK), as well as covertly on Telegram and Facebook, where alleged traffickers offer their services to people seeking refuge in Europe.
The team has also spoken to more than 50 sources, including smugglers (some undercover), hawala bankers, people seeking refuge, families of the victims of the sinking of small boats in the English Channel in November 2021, experts in the hawala system, and security and judicial sources from various countries.
Photo: ©Andrés Mourenza
Investigation shortlisted for the 2023 Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize for Journalism.
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