Over 16 000 Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans were caught in 2015 while attempting to migrate to Europe covertly. Though North Africans are a relatively small portion of the masses of clandestine migrants, they are a critical group to understand. They are the innovators and early adopters of new methods and routes for migrant smuggling. Their pioneering in the 1990s and 2000s of the cross Mediterranean routes now fuel Europe’s migration crisis. Understanding the reasons why North Africans migrate and how, the routes they use, and how these are changing, offers insights into how clandestine migration methods and routes in general may shift in the coming years. In shaping better responses to actual dynamics, it is important for countries to proactively address the chronic conditions that drive forced migration before they generate social instability.