Crime simulation: targeting cross-border trafficking in South-East Asia

Photo: Officials acting as smugglers transfer rhino horn, an illicitly trafficked endangered species, during a UNODC-supported PATROL training programme for front-line border officersFrom 15 to 19 October 2012 in Vienna, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime will hold its sixth session. This event will bring together the international community to address some of today's core criminal threats, including environmental crime and the smuggling of migrants.

12 October 2012 - It's 2 p.m. in a remote town in Kampong Cham province on the border between Cambodia and Viet Nam. In a small restaurant, a police officer on surveillance in plain clothes slowly sips his ice tea and waits. A few blocks away, the operation head radios his arrest team. The suspected traffickers have already crossed the border, he tells them.

When the traffickers' cars stop at the meeting point, the surveillance officer surveys the traffickers' rendezvous. A suspected wildlife trader removes a large rhino horn from the trunk of one car and deposits it into the second. The whole transaction is recorded on camera by the surveillance officer hidden in a building close by. Once the illicit transfer is complete, an informant among the traffickers removes his hat - a signal. In a matter of seconds, it's all over: the arrest team blocks the two cars and swiftly places the two suspected traffickers under arrest.

This is not a movie scene. It is part of the latest anti-smuggling training course organized by the PATROL project (Partnership Against Transnational crime through Regional Organized Law enforcement). Established in 2010 and funded by the Governments of Australia and the United States, PATROL seeks to improve border security at land borders, seaports and airports in the Greater Mekong subregion by working with frontline officers in Cambodia, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

During two separate five-day PATROL seminars in Cambodia, 45 Cambodian border law enforcement officers were taught anti-smuggling techniques and provided specialized support to investigate migrant smuggling and environmental crimes. The training is aimed at assisting in curbing crimes such as these, which pose particularly acute problems for developing regions where Governments often lack the capacity to regulate the exploitation of natural resources and people.

Trafficking in wildlife in South-East Asia, for instance, has had devastating effects. Widespread poverty and a lucrative overseas market for exotic animal products have resulted in the poaching of animals on a massive scale. In addition to the impact this has had on endangered animal populations and the damage it causes to natural ecosystems, poaching also affects the tourism trade, which represents a key part of many national economies.

The role of criminals in irregular migration also poses a particular danger for people. Smugglers take advantage of the large number of migrants who are willing to take risks in search of a better life when they cannot access legal channels of migration, making them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Their safety and even their lives are often put at risk: they may suffocate in containers or drown at sea while being smuggled by profit-seeking criminals who treat them as goods.

With this in mind, the objective of the course was to train border officers to help them better tackle these and other forms of cross-border criminal activities. UNODC selected a unique set of trainers, comprising national experts from Immigration, Police, Customs, and Forestry Administration and international speakers from the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Department of Environment and Conservation, the Freeland Foundation, the United Nations Environment Programme and UNODC.

As one participant commented, "This is the first time that I have taken part in a training course like this. I learned many new things during the classes, and really enjoyed the crime simulation that we used to plan and execute the arrest of the two suspected traffickers of wildlife and people."

Jointly organized by Cambodia's National Authority to Combat Drugs and the UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific, this training activity was aimed at 45 border liaison officers through the support of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship of Australia and the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). Similar activities will be organized over the next months in Viet Nam and Thailand.

In 2010, UNODC joined forces with five other organizations to launch the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, which works to bring coordinated support to national wildlife law enforcement agencies and related subregional and regional networks that act in defence of natural resources.

Related Information:

Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime

International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC)

PATROL (Partnership Against Transnational crime through Regional Organized Law enforcement)

UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific