Smuggling of migrants

Migrant smuggling has been documented along at least five major and several smaller routes in Africa. The first three major routes originate from the same sub region, namely the Horn of Africa. Movements within that sub region are mainly irregular as there are limited options for regular movement. Smugglers facilitate many of these irregular movements. The northward route connects the Horn of Africa via land to North Africa. Upon arrival in North Africa, some of the migrants smuggled along this route continue to Europe along the Central Mediterranean route. The eastward route connects the Horn of Africa to Yemen, crossing the Red Sea or the Arabian Sea. Many of these migrants are then smuggled north to Saudi Arabia or further afield. The southward route heads primarily overland to Southern Africa.

Smuggling along one of the first three major routes in Africa originating from the Horn of Africa, in the last few years, towards Southern Africa appears to have declined somewhat. There are sizable routes from West Africa to South Africa and neighbouring countries. The magnitude of migrant smuggling along the migration routes heading to Southern Africa is difficult to estimate. The number of newly arrived asylum seekers in South Africa has declined sharply since 2010, but not all migrants apply for asylum and some migrant and refugees may not be smuggled. A recent estimate of the number of irregular arrivals from the Horn of Africa in South Africa is more or less 14,050 persons per year, most of whom are smuggled at least for some part of their journey.

According to UNODC Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants (2018), the most widely used route for irregular and smuggled migrants from the Horn of Africa travelling towards South Africa is via Kenya-the United Republic of Tanzania-Zambia-Zimbabwe and then into South Africa. Almost all of the migrants – regardless of route – use smugglers for at least some part of their journey. Most migrants smuggled along the southward route intend to reach South Africa. However, the increased labour opportunities – particularly in the mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors – in other parts of Southern Africa, including Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique, might be leading to enhanced flows towards these countries. Some neighborhoods in major towns along this route are home to many smugglers, and it is possible to procure fraudulent documents there. Smugglers make use of refugee camps, including Dadaab and Kakuma in Kenya, Dzaleka transit camp in Malawi, and Tongogara camp and Nyamapanda reception centre in Zimbabwe to make contacts with migrants.

UNODC seeks to to support RECS and member states in their capacity to address and combat Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants through coordinated action around the four pillars : prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership. In addition, UNODC supports Member States in their reporting obligations on UNTOC on their action to address Transnational Organised Crime.

UNODC SAMM main activities will be through the cross-cutting programme areas of data collection and analysis, legislative drafting and capacity building which form the framework for the Regional Programme’s areas of intervention.  The project will support Member states to:

  1. align national laws to regional and international legislative instruments on TIP and SOM
  2. Enhance the capacity of their nationals to implement the legislation and obligations from the instruments. This includes development and imolimentation of strategies and (national) Action Plans.
  3. enhance the capacity of practitioners (Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Officers) to address Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants
  4. Support enhanced research and data collection on Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants. This includes linkages with other Transnational organised crime and other opportunistic crimes like labour exploitation.
  5. Support member states capacituies to collect, record and analyse data through the SADC TIP Data Collection System. This includes provision of requisite tools and equipment.
  6. Support intelligence driven operations in the SADC targeting transnational organized crime
  7. Enhance networks of member states and professionals (criminal justice and law enforcement) to enable enhanced cooperation
  8. Supporting the prevention of TIP and SOM through awareness raising initiatives targeting vulnerable communities in Member States

This support responds to the mandate offered to UNODC through the UNTOC Protocols against Trafficking in Persons and with clear momentum provided by the UN Global Compact of Migration Plan of Action.

GCM Objective 9 “Strengthen the transnational response to smuggling of migrants” affirms that Member States commit to intensify joint efforts to prevent and counter smuggling of migrants by strengthening capacities and international cooperation to prevent, investigate, prosecute and penalize the smuggling of migrants in order to end the impunity of smuggling networks. Member States further commit to ensure that migrants shall not become liable to criminal prosecution for the fact of having been the object of smuggling, notwithstanding potential prosecution for other violations of national law. We also commit to identify smuggled migrants to protect their human rights, taking into consideration the special needs of women and children, and assisting in particular those migrants subject to smuggling under aggravating circumstances, in accordance with international law.

To realize this commitment, Member States draw from the following actions:

  1. Promote ratification of, accession to and implementation of the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime;
  2. Use transnational, regional and bilateral mechanisms to share relevant information and intelligence on smuggling routes, modus operandi and financial transactions of smuggling networks, vulnerabilities faced by smuggled migrants, and other data to dismantle the smuggling networks and enhance joint responses;
  3. Develop gender-responsive and child-sensitive cooperation protocols along migration routes that outline step-by-step measures to adequately identify and assist smuggled migrants, in accordance with international law, as well as to facilitate cross-border law enforcement and intelligence cooperation in order to prevent and counter smuggling of migrants so as to end impunity for smugglers and prevent irregular migration, while ensuring that counter-smuggling measures are in full respect for human rights;
  4. Adopt legislative and other measures as may be necessary to establish the smuggling of migrants as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally and in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit for the smuggler, and include enhanced penalties for smuggling of migrants under aggravating circumstances, in accordance with international law;
  5. Design, review or amend relevant policies and procedures to distinguish between the crimes of smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons by using the correct definitions and applying distinct responses to these separate crimes, while recognizing that smuggled migrants might also become victims of trafficking in persons, therefore requiring appropriate protection and assistance;
  6. Take measures to prevent the smuggling of migrants along the migration cycle, in partnership with other States and relevant stakeholders, including by cooperating in the fields of development, public information, justice, as well as training and technical capacity-building at the national and local levels, paying special attention to geographical areas from which irregular migration systematically originates.