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Migrant Smuggling on the United Nations Intergovernmental Agenda

Countries Unite to Tackle Smuggling of Migrants in South Eastern Europe

Vienna (Austria) 8 December 2021 – The Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), the United Nations’ main policymaking body on crime prevention and criminal justice, held its annual thematic discussion on 8 December 2021.

This year’s event focused on measures to prevent and counter migrant smuggling, while protecting the rights of smuggled people, particularly women and children, both accompanied and unaccompanied.

The CCPCJ, which is also the governing body of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), was attended by States and UN entities, as well as intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

Background documents prepared for the thematic discussion highlighted the vulnerabilities of people on the move created or worsened by the COVID-19 global health pandemic.

In particular, the measures put in place by countries to control and contain COVID-19 have impacted negatively on refugees and migrants especially, leaving them at greater risk of the worst or “aggravated” forms of smuggling.

“Closed borders and reduced pathways for regular migration and asylum are pushing many people to resort to the illicit and often dangerous services of smugglers,” said Ilias Chatzis, Chief of UNODC’s Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section, at the opening of the discussion.

Despite closed borders and mobility restrictions, irregular migration movements have not stopped. “Closing borders has no impact on the willingness of refugees and migrants to migrate,” said panellist Maimouna Goge Gazibo, the Director General of the National Agency for the Fight against Human Trafficking and Migrant Trafficking in Niger.

Participants noted that smugglers have taken advantage of the mobility restrictions and border closures to profiteer and have exposed people on the move to abuse and violence.

“As we build back better, we must look beyond COVID-19 and be ready for other crises caused by conflict, insecurity, natural disasters, climate change, and others,” said Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence Against Children.

“We must transform the continuum of violence that shapes the lives of migrant and refugee children into a continuum of care and protection of their fundamental rights, ensuring that they are not left behind,” Dr. Maalla M’jid continued.

Participants in the thematic discussion also raised the need to uphold the human rights of smuggled migrants and refugees along migratory routes, with Prof. Felipe González Morales, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, calling on States to “pay attention to the impact of the measures they adopt to combat the smuggling of migrant women women and children to guarantee the protection of their human rights”.

Angela Maria Balbinot, representing the European Union, said: “We need to provide migrants with humane treatment and full protection of their human rights along the migratory routes, and we need to provide smuggled migrants who are victims of crimes with effective access to justice.” 

During a side event, UNODC’s Research and Trend Analysis Branch presented the latest findings from the UNODC Observatory on Migrant Smuggling, assessing migrant smuggling to and through Morocco and the Western Mediterranean.

Through the Observatory, UNODC collects and analyzes data on migrant smuggling in different regions to assist UN Member States with the formulation of appropriate responses to prevent and combat migrant smuggling and protect the human rights of smuggled people.

UNODC also presented its related priorities as a member of the UN Migration Network, the main coordination mechanism established by the UN Secretary General to provide holistic support to countries in advancing appropriate  policies on migration in line with the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. UNODC is one of the nine members of the Network’s Executive Committee, contributing to shape its policies and actions.

CCPCJ sessions are held annually, with the next planned for May 2022.



This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.


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