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UNODC Unites Continents to Combat Migrant Smuggling

Dubai, 1 April 2022. Every year, criminal networks smuggle thousands of migrants using long and dangerous transcontinental routes.

Migrants from South Asia are smuggled into Gulf and West African countries, which are often used as “transit hubs”, before reaching South America or the Mediterranean shores.

From South America, criminals use various routes through Central America and the Caribbean to reach the United States and Canada.

The journeys present grave risks and threats for the men, women, girls and boys who use the services of criminals in the absence of regular pathways to move across borders. 

Smuggling ventures by sea in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean and dangerous border crossings in the hostile deserts of Africa or the Darien Gap claim hundreds of lives every year.

Strong and targeted international cooperation is necessary to disrupt and dismantle the criminal networks that operate across continents and are responsible for these tragic incidents.

From 29 to 31 March 2022, UNODC brought together in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, investigators, prosecutors and judges from 14 countries in Asia, the Gulf Region, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, affected by the transregional smuggling route leading from Asia to the Americas.

Practitioners discussed trends, patterns and challenges in addressing migrant smuggling and exchanged operational successes and good practices. They committed to maintaining channels of direct communication and information exchange to strengthen cooperation against transregional migrant smuggling.

“Collaboration between law enforcement agencies is key to ending impunity for smugglers,” said  Stella Appiah, Principal State Attorney, Ghana. “We need to work together to stop migrant smuggling,” she added.

“The meeting created opportunities for new channels of cooperation and facilitated the exchange of knowledge and best practices to enhance international, interregional and cross-border cooperation,” said Judge Hatem Aly, UNODC Representative for the Gulf Region.

During the meeting, participants also highlighted the need to ensure full protection and assistance to smuggled migrants, considering their needs.

“Human life and human dignity cannot wait, it is essential to prevent criminals from endangering migrants around the world,” said Joziel Brito De Barros, Head of the Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section of the Brazilian Federal Police.

Ghada Al Hashem of the Qatar National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking emphasized that “it is important to strengthen communication channels and international cooperation to protect and guarantee the rights of migrants.”

The meeting will be followed by a series of bilateral meetings between countries along transcontinental migrant smuggling routes, to deepen information sharing and further strengthen cooperation.

“The meeting in Dubai was just the beginning of a long-term effort,” said Panagiotis Papadimitriou, Head of the Technical Cooperation Team at the UNODC Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section. “We will continue to work with this group of practitioners in the coming months to strengthen the joint response,” he added.

The meeting was organized by UNODC in the framework of the STARSOM project (“Strengthening Trans-regional Action and Responses against the Smuggling of Migrants”), funded by the Government of Canada. UNODC’s initiative “Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants” (GLO.ACT), funded by the European Union, also contributed to the meeting.



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


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