Migrant Smuggling Data and Research

Migrant Smuggling Data and Research

A Global Review of the Emerging Evidence Base You do not have access to this content

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04 Nov 2016
9789210598682 (PDF)

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The report shows that important research has been undertaken on the transnational crime aspects of migrant smuggling, including on routes, smuggling organizations (such as criminal networking and facilitation), smuggler profiles and fees/payment. Likewise, there is an emerging academic literature on migrant smuggling, particularly the economic and social processes involved in smuggling, which has largely been based on small-scale qualitative research, mostly undertaken by early career researchers. Contributions from private research companies, as well as investigative journalists, have provided useful insights in some regions, helping to shed light on smuggling practices. There remains, however, sizeable gaps in migration policy research and data, particularly in relation to migration patterns and processes linked to migrant smuggling, including its impact on migrants (particularly vulnerability, abuse and exploitation), as well as its impact on irregular migration flows (such as increasing scale, diversity and changes in geography). Addressing these systemic and regional gaps in data and research would help deepen understanding of the smuggling phenomenon, and provide further insights into how responses can be formulated that better protect migrants while enhancing States’ abilities to manage orderly migration.
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  • Foreword
    The smuggling of migrants across international borders on routes traversing land, air and sea continues to undermine migration governance and impedes safe and orderly migration. In numerous parts of the world, migrant smugglers have become an integral part of the irregular migration journey, resulting in enormous profits for criminal smuggling networks while reducing the ability of States to manage their borders and migration programmes. Given that it is often covert in nature, migrant smuggling may only become visible when tragedies occur or emergency humanitarian responses are required. Events involving people drowning or perishing inside trucks regularly capture the media’s attention, but these tragedies are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. Reliance on smugglers makes migrants particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Migrants who have experienced abuse by smugglers have little effective recourse to justice. In this ever more pressing situation, States are being severely tested in the fulfilment of their responsibilities to protect migrants’ human rights and manage their borders.
  • Report overview
    Globally, migrant smuggling receives a considerable amount of media, policy and public attention, but how much do we really know about it based on sound evidence? To what extent are data and research on migrant smuggling collected, reported and undertaken throughout the world? In the project from which this report stems, we set out to answer these questions by working with researchers and analysts to review the current data and research on migrant smuggling globally. We did so for several reasons. First, migrant smuggling matters increasingly to migrants, enormously to States and is clearly critical to a great number of non-State actors, including unfortunately the smugglers and agents who operate in this illicit sector. It also matters to a range of others including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that support migrants, international organizations working on migration, transnational crime, development and human rights, as well as the media. Enhancing our understanding of migrant smuggling improves our ability to combat inequity, exploitation and abuse by helping craft effective responses aimed at supporting safe and orderly migration policies and practices. The impacts of migrant smuggling can be many and varied but none more tragic than the deaths of people during migration, which tend to be heavily intertwined with unsafe, exploitative and unregulated migration practices often involving smuggling. The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) latest global report on migrant fatalities, for example, reported over 60,000 dead or missing migrants worldwide since 1995 (Brian and Laczko, 2016).
  • West and Central Africa
    West and Central Africa is a major source region of unauthorized migration. Trucks overloaded with migrants, rushing north along the sandy roads of the Sahara, have become iconic images of international migrant smuggling. This particular flow is important, but only one aspect of a complex and poorly documented landscape of migrant smuggling from West and Central Africa.
  • East Africa
  • North Africa
    This chapter provides an overview of migrant smuggling in North Africa, and presents a survey of existing literature and data on the topic. In assessing the research conducted on the topic, and the extent to which data has been collected or is currently being collected, this chapter will outline areas for further research and make recommendations for ways in which research and data can be used to inform policies and programmes. The literature review has focused on a selection of studies considered relevant in terms of methodology and date of publication but is in no way comprehensive. The writing of this chapter was also supported by a number of key informant interviews with practitioners in the countries of assessment.
  • Europe
    Since the 1980s, irregular migration to Europe has rapidly expanded. The perceived economic advantages, particularly in Western European countries, large-scale conflicts in Asia and the Middle East, the effects of global poverty especially in the south but also increasingly restrictive migration policies barring access to the labour market are some of the many converging factors behind the growth of this rather complex phenomenon. Over the past few years, the political turmoil in the Arab world and in particular the ongoing crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic have further exacerbated the number of undocumented migrants reaching Europe (Triandafyllidou and Maroukis, 2012; Shelley, 2014; Kuschminder, de Bresser and Siegel, 2015; McAuliffe, 2013; Salt, 2000). According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in 2015, over 1 million irregular migrants and refugees arrived in Europe (IOM, 2015) from developing countries in Africa and Asia – the highest migration flow since the Second World War. Frontex, the European Agency for the Management of the European Union’s External Borders reported an unprecedented number of over 1.5 million irregular border crossings, the overwhelming majority of which took place at the Greek–Turkish sea border (Frontex, 2016a). In response to these developments, countries in Europe have kept their eyes fixed on their borders; managing the growing numbers of migrants entering into the continent and discouraging the influx of irregular flows has nowadays evolved into a primary policy objective (Fargues and Fandrich, 2012; Fargues, 2014).
  • Turkey
    There is a long history of migrant smuggling in Turkey and its immediate neighbourhood, which started with the irregular flows of migrants from Afghanistan by the end of the 1970s following a series of events, namely the following: (a) the Soviet invasion, civil wars, Taliban regime; (b) in the early 1980s from the Islamic Republic of Iran after the regime change and persecution based on religion and political opinion; (c) end-1980s from Iraq due to Saddam’s attacks on Kurds followed by American occupation in 2003 and the civil war; and (d) more recently from the Syrian Arab Republic fleeing from civil war that erupted in 2011. Apart from these flows, Turkey has transformed into a transit migration hub for migrants hailing from Africa and South Asia thanks to the dynamics of globalization and increasing mobility.
  • Afghanistan
    Large-scale migration from Afghanistan has been a phenomenon since the late 1970s when the country first experienced instability, conflict and a shattered economy. Since then, the number of Afghans leaving has fluctuated in function of the degree of instability and economic hardship in the country, with Afghans continuously – and increasingly – on the move. Due to the large presence of registered refugees and undocumented Afghans in the neighbouring countries of the Islamic Republic of Iran (hereinafter referred to as Iran) and Pakistan, an overview of smuggling from Afghanistan must also cover Iran and Pakistan, not only as transit and destination countries but also as countries of origin.
  • South Asia
    The South Asian region – comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – is a hub of irregular and regular migration flows. Widespread news coverage of Indian and Nepalese migrants illegally entering the United States through Guatemala and Mexico (Irfan, 2012; Wells, 2013), and Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants roaming in Kuala Lumpur to make their way to Australia for seeking asylum (ABC, 2015) are some of the examples of what irregular migration looks like in the region. While all forms of irregular migration may not involve smuggling, most cases of irregular migration from and to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are undertaken with the assistance of migrant smugglers (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2015). The dynamics of irregular migration in the region is largely rooted in political conflicts, ethnic violence, economic disparities, deep poverty and food insecurity. Nevertheless, it also reflects the aspirations of relatively educated and wealthy individuals and families to settle in “western” developed countries.
  • South-East Asia and Australia
    Internal displacement, refugee and stateless populations and asylum and irregular labour migration flows have long posed challenges for South-East Asia as a region. Multiple drivers of irregular migration – such as conflict, interethnic and broader community violence, natural disasters, profound inequality and lack of opportunity – feature in many parts of the region. Entry and border management are particularly challenging because of archipelagic and isolated borders, and further complicated by traditions of informal (often seasonal) migration for work. Illicit migratory practices, such as the corrupt behaviour that facilitates migrant smuggling and human trafficking, are endemic and have proved difficult to manage. The political, economic and social costs of irregular migration are growing for most States of the region, and it is unsurprising that this issue is now firmly established on the political, policy and research agendas in both South-East Asia and Australia. Within this broader landscape, migrant smuggling has emerged as a persistent feature of irregular migration and a source of pressing concern to governments of the region.
  • North-East Asia
    This chapter examines existing data and research on migrant smuggling in North-East Asia, namely China, Japan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereafter referred to as North Korea), the Republic of Korea (hereafter referred to as South Korea), Mongolia, and the eastern part of the Russian Federation. The biggest source countries are China and North Korea, followed by a smaller source from Mongolia and the Russian Federation. The destination countries are South Korea and Japan. Data is severely limited not only because of the clandestine nature of migrant smuggling but also because of the two source countries’ undemocratic and developing status. The destination countries have limited priorities to share information with researchers on monitoring and updating illegal entries of migrants, prosecution of smugglers and referral of smuggled migrants.
  • Latin America
    Latin America constitutes one of the most important corridors for irregular migration globally, yet as other authors in this issue highlight in regard to their corresponding regions, empirical engagements with smuggling activity have been scarce. The images of migrants riding atop of trains or crossing desolate deserts often mobilized to represent irregular migration flows in this continent communicate a feeling of urgency that while relevant, far from represents the dynamics of a sometimes highly visible yet still poorly understood practice.
  • The United States
    This chapter concerns human smuggling activities in the United States, a signatory country since 2000 to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (or the Palermo Convention). Organized human smuggling activities are nothing new to the United States, a country that has seen various ethnic groups attempting to cross the borders through unofficial channels. In this chapter, recent trends of irregular migration will be presented and gaps in research and empirical data will be discussed.
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