RESEARCH TITLE: Spatial agent-based modelling of smuggling dynamics in the Niger-Libya corridor

Abstract: Centuries-old smuggling networks in the Sahel have had devastating effects on the political economy of the region. Operating between the porous borders of Sahelian countries, these criminal networks have facilitated the flows of weapons, drugs, and humans. Recent EU-backed interventions targeting primarily Libya and Niger have reduced criminal operations, as seen by the significant fall in irregular migrant flows from West Africa to Europe in 2017. However, the adverse effects of smuggling interdictions in a region where the smuggling business is embedded in the social fabric have not been mitigated. Moreover, as the underlying conditions and drivers for the migrant crisis remain in place in source countries, criminal networks are unlikely to see demand for smuggling decrease. Combined with increased government-backed interdiction measures, this demand pushes smugglers to use more dangerous, unmonitored routes and adopt innovative tactics. The current interdiction measures will therefore most likely only be effective in the short term. Hence, there is a crucial need to empirically understand how to best tackle smuggling dynamics in the Sahel. [read more] This research will reconstruct and model the structure, activities and behaviours of migrant smuggling networks operating in the Niger-Libya corridor. Using spatial analysis and agent-based modelling, it will investigate how smuggling networks respond to counter-smuggling measures. It will especially examine changes in tactics and routes. An agent-based model is a class of computational models that simulates the actions and interactions of autonomous agents with a view of re-creating an artificial environment and predicting the appearance of complex phenomena. Given the scarcity in data, an agent-based model will allow for the testing of interventions and their effects on smuggling networks, providing a key empirical study both for the academic literature in the field of organised crime and for European and African policy-makers. The model will be calibrated with data collected in the field through interviews and surveys with smugglers and migrants, as well as satellite imagery and other secondary sources of data on migration. [/read]

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Alex is a PhD researcher funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)


Speaks English & French