IOM: Social Media Facilitates Migrant Smuggling in Mexico, Central America, and Dominican Republic

Young migrants use instant messaging and geolocation in their smartphones to contact smugglers and navigate their journeys

The study by IOM shows that young migrants use instant messaging and geolocation in their smartphones to contact smugglers and navigate their journeys. Photo: María Gema Cortés / IOM 

San José – Migrant smugglers are using social media and instant messaging applications to promote and provide their illegal services, according to a study published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The study found that digital technology has made it easier for migrant smugglers to exchange money, goods, and information. Most of these activities occur on commonly used services and applications rather than on the dark web. 

Smugglers use social media and video platforms to promote their services by sharing short videos of successful crossings. Social networks also play a critical role in connecting migrants and smugglers, allowing them to interact and share information. Instant messaging and real-time geolocation technologies facilitate journey planning and execution.   

“In the desert, I was not allowed to contact the smuggler to avoid communications tracking,” a migrant in transit in Mexico told IOM. “Once I got to the town, I shared my real-time with the smugglers and they guided me via messaging apps." 

The study surveyed 531 migrants in transit in the region, of which 64 per cent had access to a smartphone and the internet during their journey.  

The results showed that migrants between 26 and 35 years old are the ones that use these technologies the most during their journey, while those over 46 hardly use them. The study found that 47 per cent of male migrants and 35 per cent of female migrants use social networks, while 18 per cent of those surveyed said they did not use them. 

While the study highlights the challenges authorities face in responding to this changing landscape, such as limited resources and capabilities in the field and gaps in legal frameworks, it also recognizes the potential for information and communication technologies (ICTs) to be a tool in countering criminal activities related to human trafficking. The study emphasizes the role of ICTs in empowering migrants and guaranteeing access to verified information at all stages of the migration cycle.   

“We are confident that the information developed in the study will help decision-makers in Central America, Mexico and the Dominican Republic to establish lines of action on the resources and strengthen capacities to fight against migrant smuggling in a coordinated and effective manner, guaranteeing the protection and well-being of migrants,” Melanie Gomez, Deputy Program Manager of IOM’s Western Hemisphere Program. 

The study is available in Spanish and was conducted with the support of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration of the US State Department. 


For more information, contact Jorge Gallo at the IOM Regional Office in Costa Rica, email, Tel: +506 7203 6536.