Written by Manya Malhotra and edited by Nidhi Deshmukh
Over the decades, globalization and security issues such as terrorism and transnational crimes have shaped migration policies. Although human trafficking and migrant smuggling are two separate, complex crimes, they are sometimes linked.
In recent years, border controls have been reduced significantly due to various factors. The border penetration has also helped aid criminal organizations in trafficking on a regional and international scale. The technical capacity of border control agencies to prevent and detect trafficking has been insufficient and needs to be improved. The border control agencies and border police lack staff, funding, and infrastructure. This situation benefits criminal networks and also helps with the transport of groups across borders where there is no regular inspection. Identification of trafficking victims is problematic even under normal circumstances, as trafficking victims are often exploited in informal, illegal, and unregulated sectors. Identification of victims is further complicated by the ability of organized criminals to hide their operations in plain sight and the unwillingness or inability of the victims to report their victimization.
There are fears that the pandemic is making the task of identifying victims of human trafficking even more difficult. Criminal networks that smuggle migrants for profit continue to thrive during COVID-19. Due to the closure of borders, migrants—including pregnant women and children—are being abandoned by their smugglers in transit countries. Restrictions at country entry points and increased patrols are leading smugglers to turn to more dangerous routes in harsher conditions, where migrants are exposed to abuse, violence, and the risk of contracting coronavirus.
To address the need for better border measures and security, the European Union 2015-2020 action plan was created and targets four main areas: enhanced police and judicial response, stronger cooperation with third-world countries, enhanced prevention of smuggling and assistance to vulnerable migrants, and improved gathering and sharing of information. During the COVID crisis, protection initiatives for smuggled migrants included access to health services regardless of citizenship and support for the broader use of technology in the criminal justice system to ease access to judicial processes. Participants in an annual Working Group on Migrant Smuggling event addressed these steps, which focused on current problems related to trafficking and difficulties in implementing the UN Protocol on Migrant Smuggling.
Overall, migrant smuggling is a lucrative industry. Smuggling services are higher in demand and offenders face a low chance of punishment or detention. Smugglers seize opportunities created by people's need to escape poverty, unemployment, natural disasters, conflict, or persecution in the absence of legal migration paths. Countering migrant smuggling requires concerted and organized action by and between states as well as other stakeholders in a variety of fields, including (but not limited to) migrant safety and assistance, addressing the causes of migrant smuggling, creating more regular channels for migration, enhancing States’ law enforcement capacities to identify and disrupt the activities of migrant smugglers, and increasing research and data collection. Together, by acknowledging and addressing migrant smuggling head-on, we can reduce this devastating crime and save lives.
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