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Asia's people smugglers exploit rising migration, raise trafficking fears - UN

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Human smuggling networks are exploiting rising migration within Asia, leaving growing numbers of migrants at risk of being trafficked and abused, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Migrant smugglers are capitalising on a lack of legal migration avenues to demand fees of up to $50,000 a person, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a major report on the criminal trade which is worth $2 billion in Asia.

Migration within Asia is expected to grow at unprecedented rates due to new infrastructure and the opening of borders, making smuggled migrants more difficult to identify among increasing numbers of regular migrants, according to the report.

Living and working illegally in a foreign country, smuggled migrants are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and human trafficking, UNODC said.

Southeast Asia continues to serve as a major source, transit point and destination for migrant smuggling, it added. While the majority of smuggling occurs within the region, routes also reach as far as Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Thailand and Malaysia are ranked among the world's worst centres of human trafficking, and were both downgraded to the lowest "Tier 3" status last June by the U.S. State Department.

"Migrant smugglers operate in highly flexible networks and quickly adapt to changing circumstances, such as redirecting routes in response to increased border controls," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC representative for Southeast Asia and Pacific.

"In addition, the production and use of fraudulent documents are widespread."

UNODC said migrant smugglers across Asia frequently relied on corrupt officials for crossing borders, forging fraudulent documents and providing information on border control routines.


The report said most migrants smuggled within Asia were unskilled or low-skilled workers seeking jobs in manufacturing, agriculture and construction.

While most are young men, there are also a significant number of young women and children being smuggled.

UNODC said a lack of education and employment opportunities, in addition to limited avenues for legal migration, had driven more women to use smugglers to cross borders in search of work, typically in hospitality, domestic service and the sex trade.

Although migrants smuggled within Asia do not tend to be targeted by human traffickers before reaching their destination, their irregular status leaves them vulnerable to being trafficked by criminals upon arrival, the report said.

Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan migrants smuggled into Malaysia and Pakistan said employers had underpaid them, confiscated their documents and forced them into debt bondage.

The report also found cases of migrants smuggled into Turkey and Indonesia being abducted, tortured and held for ransom by their smugglers or criminal groups to whom they had been sold.

The International Labour Organization estimates 21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labour.

The report said the clandestine nature of migrant smuggling meant it remained under-researched and under-reported, with the lack of data hindering efforts to tackle the crime.

UNODC called for improved border controls to help investigate and prosecute smuggling networks and for the development of safe, affordable avenues for migration.

Source: Reuters

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