The Curse of People Smuggling


Some Definitions:

“The flow of migrants across borders is controlled increasingly by criminal networks. Due to more restrictive immigration policies in destination countries and improved technology to monitor border crossings, “willing illegal” (inverted commas my addition, in view of the known desperation motivating these individuals and in view of the repeated statements by the UN that asylum seekers fleeing life endangering situations are not illegal, unless economic migrants, seeking simply to improve their standard of living) migrants rely increasingly on the help of organized people smugglers.

People smuggling is not a homogenous (of the same kind – my addition) criminal activity; the price of the trip, conditions of travel and status upon arrival can vary significantly. Smuggling is carried out by land, air or sea (my emphasis).

Very often the travelling conditions are inhumane: the migrants are overcrowded in trucks or boats and fatal accidents occur frequently. After their arrival in the destination country, their illegal status puts them at the mercy of their smugglers, who often force the migrants to work for years in the illegal labour market to pay off the debts incurred as a result of their transportation.”
Quotations taken from INTERPOL’s website

“Virtually every country in the world is affected by these crimes. The challenge for all countries, rich and poor, is to target the criminals who exploit desperate people and to protect and assist victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants, many of whom endure unimaginable hardships in their bid for a better life.
…In short, what begins as a situation of migrant smuggling may develop into a situation of human trafficking.
For some crime groups, migrants are viewed simply as one of many commodities to be smuggled along with drugs and firearms for instance.

Simply put, there are four main technical differences between human trafficking and migrant smuggling:

1. Consent – migrant smuggling, while often undertaken in dangerous or degrading conditions, involves consent. Trafficking victims, on the other hand, have either never consented or if they initially consented, that consent has been rendered meaningless by the coercive, deceptive or abusive action of the traffickers.

2. Exploitation – migrant smuggling ends with the migrants’ arrival at their destination, whereas trafficking involves the ongoing exploitation of the victim.

3. Trans nationality – smuggling is always transnational, whereas trafficking may not be. Trafficking can occur regardless of whether victims are taken to another state or moved within a state’s borders.

4. Source of profits – in smuggling cases profits are derived from the transportation of facilitation of the illegal entry or stay of a person into another county, while in trafficking cases profits are derived from exploitation.
Taken from website of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

“Smuggled migrants are vulnerable to life-threatening risks and exploitation; thousands of people have suffocated in containers, perished in deserts or dehydrated (or drowned! – my addition) at sea. Generating huge profits for the criminals involved, migrant smuggling fuels corruption and empowers organized crime.

“People smuggling syndicates are drawn by the huge profits that can be made, while benefiting from weak legislation and the relatively low risk of detection, prosecution and arrest (my emphasis), compared to other activities of transnational organized crime.”
Quotations taken from INTERPOL’s website.

“The value of the black market in human smuggling was estimated to be worth $35 Billion a year (conservative estimate, my comment), according to the IOM.”
Source: “It’s Time to Take Action and Save Lives of Migrants Caught in Crisis,” International Organization for Migration, Press Release, December 17, 2013.

My addition: Some comparisons; “Human trafficking creates approximately $150 billion in illegal revenue annually” Taken from ENDcrowd website.

On the other hand, Microsoft’s income in the US is said to have been 22.07 Billion US$ (Statistica Website) and 76.4 Billion (untaxed) US$ in foreign earnings (Reuters 2015, quoted in Wikipedia).

“People smuggling networks often change their routes and methods in response to legislative and law enforcement activities. (This may explain a recent spike in illegal arrivals to Australia via air – my comment.) This means that the routes used by people smugglers may sometimes be simple and direct, at other times circuitous. The time between departure and arrival may vary from some days to several months or even years.

People smuggling takes place on all scales but INTERPOL’s focus is on organized networks, due to their international dimension (this may explain why individual people smugglers are not apprehended more frequently, as in the following Libya scenario, comments mine:). The modus operandi of criminal organizations is increasingly sophisticated, with numerous other crimes linked to people smuggling, such as identity-related crimes, corruption, money laundering and violence.”
Quotations taken from INTERPOL’s website.

Costs and Fees for Migrants Smuggling to Europe
A human trafficker who was arrested by security forces in Italy explained the cost structure that migrants departing from North Africa to Europe must pay in order to be smuggled on a boat: The boats that consist of the human smuggling market of North Africa to Italy are usually retired fishing boats that are in bad conditions. The migrants first must pay between $1,000 to $2,500 to reserve a spot on the boat. That fee is simply to have a spot on the boat. The migrant must pay for all charges and expenses while on the boat. According to the trafficker, a life jacket costs $200. Bottles of water and cans of tuna costs up to $100. The “first class” section of the boat, which is located on the top deck and not being crowded into the ship’s hull costs $200 to $300. Blankets and rain coats costs $200. Pregnant women must pay $150 for catheters because many consider the urine of pregnant women to be poisonous. Use of the satellite phone for a few minutes costs $300. And children who are making the journey without parents are charged $1,500.

Between January and June 2014, security forces in Italy estimate that over 43,000 people have reached the Italian shores, an increase of 835 percent from the same period in 2013. In a single weekend at the end of May, a total of 3,162 migrants from Syria and North Africa were seized on 11 fishing boats off the coast of Sicily.
Source: Barbie Latza Nadeau, “Confessions of a Human Trafficker Who Smuggled Desperate Migrants Into Europe,” Daily Beast, June 5, 2014.
Some ongoing strategies to fight People smuggling:

“Despite the wide-spread nature of smuggling in migrants, the global efforts in curbing this phenomenon have largely focused on apprehending and deporting individual migrants (my emphasis), with very little done to dismantle the organized crime behind this deadly business. Unless the organized crime groups who smuggle migrants are dismantled, migrant smugglers will continue to operate and quickly adapt their methods and routes to changing circumstances such as improved border controls or changes in visa regimes. Similarly, where efforts are focused primarily on strengthening border controls, the effect is often to increase demand for smuggling services to enter countries illegally (my emphasis).

Tackling migrant smuggling necessitates a comprehensive, multi-dimensional response, which begins with addressing the socio-economic root causes of irregular migration to prevent it, and goes through to prosecution of criminals who commit smuggling-related crimes. From a UNODC perspective, the challenge is to dismantle the smuggling networks by strengthening the criminal justice response, while protecting rights of smuggled migrants (emphasis mine) with strong multi-agency cooperation in all responses.”
Taken from website of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

“At INTERPOL today, we have a global membership of 190 countries. Each country maintains a National Central Bureau (NCB), staffed by national law enforcement officers. It forms the link with INTERPOL’s global network, enabling member countries to work together on cross-border investigations. NCBs are increasingly involved in shaping the Organization’s direction.

At INTERPOL, our unique position in the international law enforcement community enables us to assist in combating the criminal networks behind people smuggling. A dedicated project, known as Smuggling Training & Operations Programme (STOP), supports our member countries in border management issues, particularly in detecting criminal networks that provide stolen or lost travel documents to illegal immigrants or individuals involved in organized crime. The Project provides police at strategic border points with direct access to our Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) Database, allowing them to instantly check travel documents against INTERPOL records.

At INTERPOL, we have developed additional tools which can facilitate the exchange of information among police in member countries and help coordinate action. The following tools are accessible to authorized users of I-24/7, INTERPOL’s secure global police communications system:

■ MIND/FIND technical solutions enable frontline law enforcement agencies dealing with people smuggling (border police, immigration) to receive instant responses for queries on stolen or lost travel documents;

■ The International Contact Directory for People Smuggling Issues contains contact details for individuals responsible for people smuggling and illegal migration issues within INTERPOL National Central Bureaus around the world.

We also host a Global People Smuggling Conference where key stakeholders can contribute to a strategy to combat the complex web of people smuggling issues.”
Quotations taken from INTERPOL’s website.

“In order to comply with the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol, Article 6 requires states to criminalize both smuggling of migrants and enabling of a person to remain in a country illegally, as well as aggravating circumstances that endanger lives or safety, or entail inhuman or degrading treatment of migrants (this is particularly applicable to present Australian detention practices – comment mine).”

As the only United Nations entity focusing on the criminal justice element of these crimes, the work that UNODC does to combat human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants is underpinned by the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols on trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling.

… migrant smuggling affects countries of origin, transit and destination – and therefore requires the collaborative response of all.
Taken from website of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

An example: Libya

“… beyond the destruction of specific boats, conversations with smugglers, refugees and coastguards along the shores of west Libya suggest there are other, more long-term strategies for curbing the flow of people across the Mediterranean. The message from refugees is clear: find us a safer option. Often fleeing dictatorship, war or hunger at home and faced with further conflict and exploitation in supposedly safer havens like Libya, to many refugees the Mediterranean seems the least bad option.”

“It is not our choice to penetrate the sea,” said Keflemekal from Eritrea, one of the world’s harshest dictatorships. “If we got some help from the Libyan government, from UNHCR, we would try something else. But if the government won’t help us, if UNHCR won’t help us, if no one can help us, then the only option is to go to the smugglers.”

A return to stability in Libya is also crucial. The Libyan civil war, which has divided the country between two rival governments and dozens of militias, has left local law enforcement either unconcerned about, unable to deal with, or part of the problem in the first place. In the expanse of western Libya, where most migrant missions begin, the Libyan coastguard has just three functioning boats. In Zuwara, there is just one – a Zodiac no bigger than some of the smugglers’ smallest ships. The coastguards have not been paid in months, while an extra ship that could help them increase their operations remains in Tunisia because the local government could not afford to pay for its maintenance.

In an area where there are dozens of smuggling missions a week, trying to resist seems pointless, said a Zuwaran coastguard who gave his name as Mostafa.

“The EU, if it really wants to stop smuggling from Zuwara, they need to bring us the tools to this office,” Mostafa said, claiming that millions of dollars meant for ports like Zuwara had never reached their target after they were sent straight to the central government in Tripoli. “We need serious tools, boats, proper patrols, a committee to train us. Don’t give the aid to Tripoli. Give it to us in Zuwara.”
Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian, 25 April, 2015

Australian strategies:

“To combat the spike in people smuggling activity, the AFP (Australian Federal Police) has generated a law enforcement program founded on three pillars: prosecution, disruption and capacity building (my emphasis). The prosecution strategy relies on foreign and Australian prosecution of people smugglers. The disruption strategy consists of providing actionable intelligence to inform foreign law enforcement action and prevent maritime ventures before they depart for Australia. The capacity building strategy is focused on enhancing the capacity of the Indonesian National Police and other law enforcement agencies across the region including in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Malaysia.”
Taken from the AFP website.

“Mr Dutton (Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) said the Government was committed to stamping out the people smuggling trade in the region. “By working closely with our regional partners we save lives at sea and prevent vulnerable people being lied to and ripped off by people smugglers”.
The Coalition Government’s policies and resolve are stopping illegal boat arrivals and are restoring integrity to Australia’s borders and immigration programme.

“Anyone attempting to enter Australia illegally by sea will never be resettled in this country,” Mr Dutton said.

Measures and safeguards are in place to enable Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) actions and activities to be undertaken in a manner consistent with Australian domestic law and Australia’s obligations under international law. The overriding priority for all agencies involved in OSB is the safety of all involved at all times. This includes potential illegal arrivals, crews, and Australian personnel.”
Taken from Minister Peter Dutton’s website, 19 February 2015.

“… while political and popular attention has focused largely on irregular maritime arrivals, people smuggling to Australia also occurs by air.”
Cat Barker, Australian Policy Online (APO), 28 February 2013

My observation: This figure has spiked in recent years, especially since boats have been stopped.

Putting the whole issue of people smuggling into perspective (my comments):
The UN in 2013 published a figure of 51.2 Mio. displaced people worldwide (including internally displaced persons). More than 85% of these are hosted in developing countries (usually in refugee camps). Australia hosts 0.3%.

Of the above 51.2 Mio, which would have increased significantly by now, 11.7 Mio. refugees are registered under the UNHCR mandate. Of these, a mere 3+% were resettled; 90 % to the US, Australia and Canada in 2013. Australia has since reduced its resettlement target.
Figures taken from an article in the SMH, by Sarah White and Inga Ting, June 20, 2014.

Further references and resources:

*UNODC – In-depth training manual on investigating and *UNODC Toolkit to Combat smuggling of and prosecuting the smuggling of migrants migrants

Since first publishing the above, this report by Ross Kemp in April 2017, shows that things only have gotten worse. With so much apathy around, there is little hope for these people trapped in the greatest humanitarian tragedy worldwide: 60+ million people drifting in a literal and symbolic ocean of greed and indifference! If you do nothing but watch this report, you will have done more than most. I hope it will spurn you on to prayer and to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves!

14 thoughts on “The Curse of People Smuggling

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