Nearly 10,000 people have been arrested across Europe in recent years in the name of a proclaimed “war on migrant smuggling”. Yet most of those people are innocent scapegoats with no demonstrable link to trafficking or smuggling networks.

That is the finding of an investigation by a team of freelance journalists in Italy, Greece and the United Kingdom.

Asylum seekers who agree or are forced to steer dinghies across the Mediterranean or the Channel are routinely accused of smuggling, and often convicted to decades-long prison sentences in hasty trials where basic defence rights are not guaranteed, the journalists found.

The cross-border investigation sheds light on the role of EU institutions in this criminalisation, as well as the responsibilities of coastal states where most of the arrests happen.

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