Light Wave


Human Traffickers Use TikTok, Facebook, YouTube To Sell Their Illicit Services

By Jake Beardslee · August 2, 2023

In brief…

  • More than 100,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean in 2023
  • Over 2,000 are missing or dead.
  • Asian migrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan pay human smugglers to reach Europe.
  • Traffickers use social media (YouTube, Facebook, TikTok) to promote their illegal services.
Human traffickers are leveraging popular social media platforms like TikTok to advertise their illegal migration services.  Solen Feyissa/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

More than 100,000 migrants have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, with over 2,000 perishing or going missing. Many migrants who are paying human smugglers for passage to Europe come from Asian nations such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Human traffickers make liberal use of social media accounts on platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok, where they actively promote their illegal services. They post videos depicting migrants successfully arriving in European countries and - yes - thanking the traffickers for providing safe, albeit unlawful, passage.

Traffickers refer to illegal border crossings as “game” and tout their professionalism. They romanticize migration with Punjabi rap songs about bravery and providing for one’s family. Comment sections under videos are used by smugglers and prospective migrants as a communication platform.

However, the rosy picture depicted by traffickers online masks the grim, dangerous truth. Thousands have died making these journeys, including the recent capsizing of a smuggler ship off Greece that killed over 350 Pakistanis.

Shipwreck survivor Usman Sadique told DW News he considered abandoning his journey but was afraid he would have to repay his huge debt if he returned home. “I thought, how would I pay back the huge loan that I had taken? These thoughts prevented me from returning because the agent said ₹1.6 million would be deducted right away from anyone who returns,” Usman said.