Call a friend with a connection, get a passport in 24 hours, and hand over some cash. That is what it takes to flee the fragile Sahel region of Africa, where smuggling networks exploit the desperation of people, leading in some cases to such deadly disasters as the recent shipwreck off the coast of Greece.
Local volunteers based in communities located on transnational trafficking routes in Southeast Asia are playing an increasingly important role in preventing the trade in illicit drugs, people and other items thanks to the support of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Shoppers in Mali’s Gao, Timbuktu, and Ménaka regions can snap up AK-pattern assault rifles for $750 and cartridges for 70 cents apiece, from locally handcrafted pistols to smuggled French and Turkish machine guns, as a dizzying array of illegal weaponry dots market stalls across the Sahel, a 6,000-kilometre-wide belt in the middle of Africa.
In the summer of 2022, 70 Gambian babies and young children died from kidney failure after ingesting cough syrup spooned out by their caregivers. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global alert that four tainted paediatric products had originated in India, as local health authorities continue to investigate how this tragedy unfolded.
Chili peppers, fake medicine, fuel, gold, guns, humans, and more are being trafficked via millennia-old trade routes crisscrossing the Sahel, and the UN and partners are trying out new, collaborative ways to thwart those attempting the illegal practice, a growing problem in this fragile African region.