More than 9 in 10 undocumented immigrants in the European Union make use of at least one people smuggler during their journey, according to law enforcement agency Europol.
NBC News tracked one Afghan migrant, Zubair Nazeri, for a year on a leg of his journey, from Serbia into Western Europe. Smugglers led him through minefields and across the deadly waters of the Mediterranean, making parents sedate their babies and using code words along the way.
"I must have used the word 'game' more than 1,000 times in the last two years," said Nazeri, 25.
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European criminal organizations are moving assets into people smuggling, which they see as low risk and highly profitable, according to Europol spokesman Jan Op Gen Oorth. The under-the-table business intersects with document forgery, money laundering and drug smuggling.