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Smuggling of Migrants Poses A Significant Threat To Asia

World Affairs

Open Eyes Opinion {source: UNODC}

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – Asia

United Nations Building, Bangkok, Thailand

Migrant smuggling in Asia increasingly complex and dynamic

Photo: UNODC


28 April 2015 – In a new report, UNODC warns that the smuggling of migrants poses a significant threat to Asia, generating an annual value of $2 billion for criminal groups and leading to deaths and human rights abuses.

The report, entitled Migrant Smuggling in Asia: Current Trends and Related Challenges,analyzes the smuggling of migrants in 28 states from the Middle East to the Pacific and finds that criminal networks are creatively exploiting gaps between demand and regular migration, with smuggling fees to get to some destinations now reported as high as $50,000.

The report also stresses that a significant number of migrants use smugglers to cross borders in order to seek a better life, but end up in human trafficking situations. Far away from home and working illegally, smuggled migrants have little ability to assert basic rights and become vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and exploitation.

Southeast Asia continues to serve as an important source, transit and destination for migrant smuggling, with the majority of smuggling taking place within the region but with routes also reaching countries as far as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, emphasizes the significance for the region, as smuggled migrants are more difficult to identify among the increasing number of regular migrants that accompany regional integration. “The cross-border movement of people in Asia is expected to grow rapidly and at unprecedented levels, in part due to new infrastructure projects and the opening of borders.”

Migrant smugglers operate in highly flexible networks and quickly adapt to changing circumstances, such as redirecting routes in response to increased border controls. “In addition, the production and use of fraudulent documents are widespread,” said Mr. Douglas. “People that make use of smugglers face increased risks to their health and safety.”

The complex phenomenon of migrant smuggling in Asia defies simplistic solutions. UNODC calls on countries to comprehensively address migrant smuggling, embedded in wider trafficking, migration and development policies – in line with the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime.

To address the situation, the report recommends strengthening data generation and understanding, and improving national laws and policies while protecting the rights of migrants, as well as building operational capacity at border crossings to identify, investigate and prosecute smuggling and trafficking networks, and the protection of victims. This will require international cooperation and political will, as well as the development of affordable, accessible and safe avenues for legal migration.

Further information at:

UNODC in Southeast Asia and the Pacific

Smuggling of migrants in Asia report

UNODC’s work on smuggling of migrants



Background Note UNODC

UNODC is a global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime. Established in 1997 through a merger between the United Nations Drug Control Programme and the Centre for International Crime Prevention, UNODC operates in all regions of the world through an extensive network of field offices. UNODC relies on voluntary contributions, mainly from Governments, for 90 per cent of its budget.

UNODC is mandated to assist Member States in their struggle against illicit drugs, crime and terrorism. In the Millennium Declaration, Member States also resolved to intensify efforts to fight transnational crime in all its dimensions, to redouble the efforts to implement the commitment to counter the world drug problem and to take concerted action against international terrorism.

The three pillars of the UNODC work programme are:

  • Field-based technical cooperation projects to enhance the capacity of Member States to counteract illicit drugs, crime and terrorism
  • Research and analytical work to increase knowledge and understanding of drugs and crime issues and expand the evidence base for policy and operational decisions
  • Normative work to assist States in the ratification and implementation of the relevant international treaties, the development of domestic legislation on drugs, crime and terrorism, and the provision of secretariat and substantive services to the treaty-based and governing bodies

In pursuing its objectives, UNODC makes every effort to integrate and mainstream the gender perspective, particularly in its projects for the provision of alternative livelihoods, as well as those against human trafficking.

Menu of Services – an overview of the technical assistance provided by UNODC

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The international community confronts a host of menaces, including illicit drugs, threats to security and health and new and emerging crimes. As Governments and other development partners increasingly look to UNODC for specialized assistance and expertise, the Office has expanded it scope and volume of work to provide comprehensive and coherent responses to these challenges.

UNODC has released a new Menu of Services published in October 2010, which provides a detailed overview of how clients can access targeted assistance or the range of publications and online tools available

UNODC can help in the following areas:

Organized crime and trafficking UNODC helps Governments react to the instability and insecurity caused by crimes like the smuggling of illicit drugs, weapons, natural resources, counterfeit goods and human beings between countries and continents. It is also addressing emerging forms of crime, such as cybercrime, trafficking in cultural artefacts and environmental crime.

Corruption Corruption is a major impediment to economic and social development, UNODC partners with the public and private sectors, as well as civil society, to loosen the grip that corrupt individuals have on government, national borders and trading channels. In recent years, the Office has stepped up its efforts to help States recover assets stolen by corrupt officials.

Crime prevention and criminal justice reform UNODC promotes the use of training manuals and the adoption of codes of conduct and standards and norms that aim to guarantee that the accused, the guilty and the victims can all rely on a criminal justice system that is fair and grounded on human rights values. A strong rule of law will also instill confidence among citizens in the effectiveness of the courts and the humanness of the prisons.

Drug abuse prevention and health Through educational campaigns and by basing its approach on scientific findings, UNODC tries to convince youth not to use illicit drugs, drug-dependent people to seek treatment and Governments to see drug use as a health problem, not a crime.

Terrorism prevention On this issue, UNODC is moving towards a more programmatic approach that involves developing long-term, customized assistance to entities involved in investigating and adjudicating cases linked to terrorism.

For each of these five areas, the Menu of Services contains information about some of the publications and online tools it has developed and examples of the impact that the UNODC is having on the ground.

In the words of UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov: “If UNODC provides services that you require, or if you would like to support our work, please call on us. Working together to take action against drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism, we can increase security and improve the lives of individuals, families and communities all over the world.”

At a time when these problems without borders are becoming widely recognized as threats to individuals and nations alike, requests for coordinated UNODC initiatives at the national, regional and transnational levels continue to grow. Our work enhances security and improves the everyday lives of people across the globe.

Download: UNODC Services and Tools – Practical solutions to global threats to justice, security and health(pdf)

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