Southern Africa: A regional response to smuggling of migrants
People in the SADC region, like everywhere else, move continuously for a range of reasons - to seek employment, to reunite with their families, to flee internal conflict. Despite the existing regulations on legal migration they face difficulties in accessing legal channels for migration and often have to rely on the services of smugglers to reach their destination.
UNODC and the Secretariat of the Southern Africa Development Community partnered in organizing the first ever regional meeting to discuss the challenge that the Region faces in addressing a growing problem of Smuggling of Migrants. The event, held in Johannesburg from 10 to 12 May 2016, brought together senior officials from 11 SADC member states representing the Immigration authorities, Police, Prosecutors and ministries of Justice.
Ms Zhuldyz Akisheva, the UNODC Regional Representative expressed similar sentiments, encouraging SADC member states to take a "comprehensive and inter-agency approach" to the challenge by integrating the justice response to the national efforts for managing migration flow. In this context, the current first regional debate among criminal justice practitioners should establish a platform for a regular action-oriented cooperation.
In examining the routes used to smuggle migrants, SADC member states noted with concern the organized nature of crime in the region, and how the enterprise appeared to generate large profits for the criminals involved, at a high human cost. People being fully dependent on smugglers become an easy target for exploitation and sexual abuse. This was emphasized by the criminal justice practitioners, who voiced particular concern on the increased trend of unaccompanied minors smuggled into the Region and the exposure of women and children to sexual abuse during smuggling.
According to the data, shared by participants, 351,840 migrants were deported from South Africa during the period 2012 - 2016 with 343, 774 of them being nationals of SADC countries. It is not known how many of these people were smuggled into the country, but 4,632 of criminal cases were investigated. While South Africa was identified as the main destination in the Region for smuggled migrants, the criminal justice practitioners agreed that due to the scope and implications of illegal migration not a single country can deal with it alone.
The SADC Secretariat has developed a draft Regional Strategy to Combat Illegal Migration, Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons in order to operationalize the regional 10-year Strategy to combat trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. SADC has also put in place the SADC Anti-Corruption Committee in line with its Protocol against Corruption in order to strengthen measures against alleged corrupt officials working at borders.
However, despite regional cooperation initiatives the number of criminal cases against smugglers are critically low. The criminal justice practitioners acknowledged lack of a specific national legislation and cross-border cooperation that would enable the effective criminal justice response to this issue.
In her presentation on the international legal framework on smuggling of migrants, Ms Morgane Nicot, UNODC expert, highlighted the importance of developing domestic legislation which is aligned to the Protocol. The crime smuggling of migrants should focus on the facilitation of illegal entry for financial material benefit, while the migrants themselves should not be criminalised.
The workshop provided a much-need platform to fill in some information gaps around smuggling of migrants in the SADC Region and enable SADC Member States to jointly map a way forward in addressing this challenge in line with the requirements of the United Nations Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. It set the basis for the work on the Regional plan of action in addressing the smuggling of migrants problem.