Migration is one of the great driving forces of human progress and development. The movement of people worldwide has resulted in many stories that have contributed to the shared history of humanity. People have moved all over the globe for a variety of reasons: to increase their economic opportunities; to provide their children with an education; to found a family; to embark on an adventure and to seek protection. Migration, in turn, has led to the proliferation of languages, cultures, cuisines and ideas on an international scale.
Global migration as it exists today is one of the massive by-products of globalization; the exploitation of this phenomenon by profit-seeking criminals has given it a darker side. The criminal activity of smugglers of migrants undermines the capacity of States to safeguard their own sovereignty and thereby reduces the opportunities available to migrants to move to other countries legally and safely. The cost of the smuggling of migrants is often measurable in terms of lives lost.
Understanding the smuggling of migrants
As more and more people seek to migrate in search of a better life for themselves and their families—sometimes fleeing lack of employment opportunities and sometimes extreme poverty, natural disaster or persecution—a demand is created for services to help them do so. Not all persons who wish to migrate have legally sanctioned opportunities to do so. Profit Seeking criminals take advantage of this fact by smuggling migrants. One reason why the smuggling of migrants occurs is that borders exist; and generally, the numbers of those motivated to migrate far exceeds the limited possibilities for crossing borders. Meanwhile, the abilities of States to control immigration are limited and migration policies often fail to achieve their objectives.
Borders and border control measures Research has shown that restrictive immigration laws, the tightening of asylum policies and reinforced border control measures do not necessarily result in a reduction of irregular migration. In response to improved border control measures, more irregular migrants resort to services provided by profit-seeking smugglers. This in turn fosters the “networkization” and “professionalism” of smugglers of migrants as well as an increase in the prices that they charge for their services, particularly for sophisticated operations such as “visa smuggling” which can be employed to bypass border controls. At the same time, strong law enforcement responses have contributed to the establishment of a variant form of the smuggling of migrants where smugglers offer services that, though low in cost, exact a high price in terms of the dangers they pose to the health and lives of those smuggled. This has resulted in a rise in the death toll in recent years. Virtually every country in the world is affected by the smuggling of migrants, as a country of origin, transit or destination or even as all three.
The smuggling of migrants can be considered within the wider context of irregular migration. Generally the motivations of smuggled persons are no different from those of irregular migrants: they wish to improve their lives and the lives of their family or to escape from a situation of persecution. Relationships that smuggled migrants have with the person or people smuggling them vary significantly; in some situations, the smuggler will act simply as a facilitator by enabling the migrants to reach a destination they themselves have chosen. In other situations, the smuggler controls every aspect of the smuggling process, including the final destination. Often, migrants in this situation will become stranded along the way and consequently unable to reach a particular destination or to return home. In other situations, the migrant and the smuggler will negotiate extensively over matters of travel and destination.
Vulnerability of migrants to smugglers of migrants
Many migrants intend to migrate independently of smugglers of migrants. However, as circumventing the restrictions on movement becomes more challenging and as environments in the course of the journey become more unfamiliar, migrants may resort to the services of smugglers of migrants. The more a migrant feels displaced (for example, not knowing the local language is a key alienating factor en route), the greater his or her need for assistance and services will be.
Related concept: trafficking in persons
“Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
In basic terms, for a person to be guilty of trafficking in persons the following must be present (and evidenced):
• Act: the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person.
• Means: the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits.
• Purpose: exploitation, which includes the exploitation of the prostitution of others and other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or practices similar to slavery and the removal of organs. The Trafficking in Persons Protocol defines the crime of trafficking in persons as comprising three constituent elements, as outlined in the matrix on the next page.
What are the main differences between trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants? In a significant number of cases it may be difficult to distinguish between a case of trafficking in persons and a case of smuggling of migrants. The distinctions between smuggling and trafficking are often very subtle and they sometimes overlap. Identifying whether a case is one of trafficking in persons or smuggling of migrants can be very difficult for a number of reasons:
Some trafficked persons might start their journey by agreeing to be smuggled into a country illegally, but later in the process, may find themselves deceived, coerced or forced into an exploitative situation (for instance, one where they are compelled to work for extraordinarily low wages to pay for the transportation).
Traffickers may present an “opportunity” that sounds more like smuggling to potential victims. They could be asked to pay a fee in common with other people who are smuggled. However, the intention of the trafficker from the outset is the exploitation of the victim. Charging the “fee” is part of the deception and a fraudulent way to make a little more money.
Smuggling may not be the planned intention at the outset but a “too good to miss” opportunity to traffic people presents itself to the smugglers/traffickers at some point in the process.
Criminals may both smuggle and traffic people, employing the same routes and methods of transporting them.