“The smuggler is the symptom of the closing of borders, in no case the cause of migratory movements”

Tribune. How to leave besieged Aleppo, cross the Channel, cross the ever higher walls of Fortress Europe, if not with the help of a smuggler? It is often failure, even death for those who want to free themselves from it. Yaya Karamoko, on May 22, 2021, Abdoulaye Koulibaly on August 8 or even Sohaïbo Billa would they have drowned in Bidassoa if they had been able to spend the fifty euros requested by the smugglers to cross the Franco-Spanish border?

Since the border closures in the 1980s and the drastic reduction in visa allocations, those fleeing their country have had no other choice but to hire the services of people to undertake these long and perilous journeys.

The smuggler is the symptom of the closing of borders, in no case the cause of migratory movements. Despite this widely documented equation, European political leaders continue to blame the border deaths on smugglers, with everyone’s consent.

The figure of the crooked smuggler taking advantage of people’s misery is commonly accepted even among the most fervent supporters of hospitality. Find favor in the eyes of the latter only one who would do this for free. This is to forget that the profession is dangerous in a hostile environment, that the penalties incurred can be heavy. The philanthropic smuggler would not be enough to meet the ever greater demand for passage as obstacles multiply and controls tighten.

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The ferryman knows the place. He is of two worlds, he is between the two worlds. To be of two worlds means that one is capable of transgression. In the Basque Country, the smuggler was loved by his community, he provided the link between the valleys of the divided country. Provider of food and news, he was a positive, almost heroic figure, capable of disobeying the trade rules of the day. “Poet of his own kind”; said Dostoyevsky. Also capable, when it comes to making choices, of making courageous ones. This is what locally famous smugglers did during the Second World War, whose memory is now honored, Charlot Blanchi d’Angeltou in Saint-Martin-Vésubie, Paul Barberan in l’Hospitalet-près-l ‘ Andorra, Florentino Goikoetxea in the Basque Country.


The British, American and Free France secret services were not mistaken: it was towards the smugglers that they turned to organize the passages through the Pyrenees, of their agents. Alejandro Elizalde, by the Perdrix rock, led the very first aviators of the Comet network from France to Spain, on the night of July 24 to 25, 1941. Elizalde knew the mountains, he took risks, he was paid for it. These are risks that he takes, moreover, to the end: arrested at the end of 1941, he died on his return from the camps in 1945.

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“The smuggler is the symptom of the closing of borders, in no case the cause of migratory movements”