Migrant Smuggling in Focus – The Crime and UNODC´s Response

Vienna (Austria), 18 May 2021 – Migrant smuggling is a criminal activity that involves the arrangement of illicit
border crossings for people who need to leave their home countries but lack options for regular migration.

What is the crime of migrant smuggling?

Migrants may be escaping natural disaster, conflict or persecution or simply seeking employment, education and family reunion opportunities. They embark on often dangerous journeys that have no guarantee of ending successfully.

The smugglers operate for profit and also facilitate the illegal stay of migrants in countries they transit and at their destination.Violence, abuse, extortion and the risk of exploitation are common traits of this crime. Many migrants perish of thirst in deserts, die at sea, or suffocate in containers. Others die as a result of the violence inflicted by the smugglers, armed groups and militia.

Research conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that corrupt public officials are very often complicit in the crime of migrant smuggling and the associated abuse and violence.

Migrant smuggling is a widespread and highly profitable form of organized crime,” says Ilias Chatzis, the Chief of UNODC’s Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure countries are properly equipped to counter this crime while protecting the rights, safety and dignity of the smuggled migrants during law enforcement operations and investigations,” he adds.

The UN Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants

UNODC assists countries to ratify and implement the UN Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants and develop or update relevant laws, policies and action plans in line with the Protocol’s provisions.

The Protocol, which to date has been ratified by 150 Parties, is the first global international instrument to provide a comprehensive framework to address migrant smuggling.

This treaty provides for the first international definition of the crime and aims to foster cooperation to prevent migrant smuggling, prosecute perpetrators and protect the rights of smuggled migrants.“The Protocol also clearly underscores the obligation to treat smuggled migrants humanely,  provide appropriate assistance and protection when their lives or safety are endangered, and not consider them as criminals because they were smuggled,” explains Mr. Chatzis.

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