Over 70 Million Forced Migrants at the Mercy of Smugglers


Human Wrongs Watch

Over 70 million people are forced migrants – more than one in every 100 of the world’s citizens – displaced by conflict, political upheaval, violence and disasters but also by climate change and development projects, according to the World Disasters Report 2012 of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Source: UNODC

Of these, some 50 million irregular migrants are believed to have used the services of smugglers at some stage of their journey, says the UN Development Programme.

This was the subject of a side event in Vienna last week during the Sixth Session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported on 23 October 2012.

Forced migrants often confront life-threatening dangers in transit and exploitation and abuse upon reaching their destinations. They may be extorted, beaten or raped, which in turn can give rise to public health risks such as drug abuse and HIV/AIDS.

The Smuggling Business:  $6.75 Billion

In order to enhance international cooperation against this complex phenomenon, UNODC has signed memoranda of understanding with IFRC, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration.

The Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air supplementing UNTOC defines migrant smuggling as the facilitation of illegal border crossings or of illegal residence in a country with the aim of making a financial or other material profit. At the Conference of Parties, Member States passed a resolution to strengthen support for the Protocol, of which UNODC is the guardian.

Migrants who cannot afford high-cost, low-risk smuggling options are forced to undertake low-cost, high-risk journeys. Each year, criminals are estimated to generate around $6.75 billion from the smuggling of migrants along just two of the principal routes used for such smuggling, namely from East, North and West Africa to Europe and from South America to North America, says UNODC.

Up to 2,000 Lives Lost in Mediterranean… Every Year

While criminals gross an estimated US$150 million annually from smuggling migrants from Africa to Europe, according to UNODC. UNHCR reports that between 1,500 and 2,000 lives are lost in the Mediterranean Sea every year .

National authorities may be unable to identify and assist smuggled migrants, who may not be treated as victims in need of protection but as illegal migrants committing a perceived “crime”. IFRC says that, responses in destination countries that focus only on ‘irregular migration’, without considering the criminal processes involved will fail to disrupt smuggling. Adequate protection and assistance of forced migrants is necessary to prosecute criminals.

Returning intercepted migrants to their place of origin allows criminals to re-smuggle people. Meanwhile, prosecutions of smugglers will fail unless those who could testify against them are empowered to support the process of bringing criminals to justice. Finally, says, IFRC, humanitarian and criminal justice actors must harmonize their work.

Just a Form of Transnational Organized Crime

In July 2012, UNODC assumed the chair of the Global Migration Group, a United Nations inter-agency group bringing together heads of agencies to promote the wider application of all relevant international and regional instruments and standards relating to migration and to encourage the adoption of more coherent, comprehensive and better coordinated approaches to the issue of international migration.

As a form of transnational organized crime, the smuggling of migrants is the subject of a new campaign by UNODC. Information on the awareness campaign can be found at www.unodc.org/toc and includes a video which is being made available at www.youtube.com/unodc.

The campaign page includes a dedicated section and fact sheet on the smuggling of migrants, available at www.unodc.org/toc/en/crimes/migrant-smuggling.html.

Related Information: UNODC on human trafficking and smuggling of migrants. Source: UNODC report

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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