Yesterday in Vienna, IOM, the United Nations Migration Agency and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched a joint platform on countering migrant smuggling. The initiative encourages the main stakeholders to join forces on, among other things, research, reinforcing Member States’ capacities - upon request - to dismantle criminal networks engaging in migrant smuggling, enhancing assistance to smuggled migrants, and supporting the development of prevention strategies and action plans.

On a global level and through its regional and country offices IOM has contributed towards preventing and combatting migrant smuggling for many years. In 2016, it adopted a Comprehensive Approach to Counter Migrant Smuggling which defines four key pillars of work: protection and assistance; addressing the causes; enhancing States’ capacity to disrupt the activities of migrant smugglers; and promoting research and data collection.

Argentina Szabados, IOM’s Regional Director for South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, shares her impressions.

Why will a joint IOM-UNODC platform on migrants smuggling be beneficial?

The smuggling of migrants across borders is a transnational crime, profiteering from the misery of desperate people, and requires transnational cooperation. We need action. Too many lives are being lost, and too much suffering is being endured. Yes, smuggled migrants will eventually find work and – as migrants do – succeed in integrating at their destination. But this does not excuse the smugglers’ crime of illegally crossing borders, and their poor treatment of migrants on their journey. In fact, smugglers seem to place little value on their human cargo, because once the fee has been paid, there is little thought given to the safe arrival of the vulnerable migrants. In order to close the smuggling activities and ensure appropriate migration management, we need transnational cooperation among States and other relevant parties. This platform is an integral part to achieving that.

Wouldn’t it be better to secure borders and stop people making risky journeys?

Migration is a human reality, it is in our DNA. People will always be drawn to move places in order to improve their living conditions, and to distance themselves from danger. While States must know who is entering and leaving their territories, it has been shown that more open labour migration policies significantly reduce the need to resort to the high-risk border crossings offered by smugglers. We must present potential migrants with safe and legal alternatives to the unsanitary and life-threatening service that that the smugglers provide.

How can you make an impact on this business, which you admit is a hugely profitable criminal enterprise?

Migrant smuggling can be countered in the same way as human trafficking: prevention, protection and prosecution. The first steps include increasing awareness about the options for regular, safe migration, and about the risks migrants face by placing themselves in the hands of smugglers. We need to be more aware of the vulnerabilities that drive migrants, and the vulnerabilities they face on their journey. Migrants who have been smuggled need our assistance on many levels, which includes recovery from their brutal journeys, during any legal proceedings they may face, and with voluntary return and reintegration for those who are not in need of international protection. Law enforcers need to be empowered to recognize smuggling, protect the rights of those being smuggled, and be given the means to weaken and prosecute those perpetuating the crime.

What are your guiding principles?

We would point to Sustainable Development Goal target 10.7 which sets out to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible mobility of people. The 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants is, we hope, moving us towards that goal, in the form of a global compact. Joining our efforts together and providing a platform for Member States specifically to address migrant smuggling is an essential step in that process.