United Nations Secretary-General comments on dangers of human trafficking and migrant smuggling in his address to the Global Forum on Migration and Development

Athens, 4 November 2009

"Every year, thousands put their lives into the hands of smugglers..."

In addressing the Global Forum of Migration and Development in Athens, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the positive contributions made by migration around the world, but also underlined the dangers posed by human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

"We meet in what I call an age of mobility.

An era where people cross borders in growing numbers in pursuit of opportunity and hope for a better life.

Today, the number of international migrants is greater than at anytime in history, with 214 million people living outside their country of birth.

Thanks to the work of the Forum and others, there is a growing understanding about the good that such mobility can generate.

When managed well, international migration greatly improves human welfare and development.

That message was at the heart of this year's UN Human Development Report.

In countries of origin, migrants contribute to development by transferring remittances and transmitting new ideas and technologies.

In countries of destination, migrants fill gaps in labour demand and skills to make the economy more productive.

But we have work ahead of us.

Around the world, migration is often the subject of shrill debate - a wedge to provoke social tensions, drive political extremes, fan the flames of discrimination and hatred.

We cannot yet say that the development potential of international migration is being fully realized. We cannot yet declare that the rights of migrants are being fully respected.

The conditions in which many migrants move and live continue to be treacherous.

Human trafficking and sexual exploitation are disturbing realities.

Many migrants still face high costs in migrating and lack vital information.

Every year, thousands put their lives into the hands of smugglers or unlicensed recruiters."


Migrant smuggling is a deadly business

Not all persons who migrate have the legal opportunities to do so. Profit-seeking criminals take advantage of this and smuggle migrants, often recruiting victims of trafficking from among them. Virtually every country in the world is affected by smuggling of migrants and human trafficking, either as a country of origin, transit, destination, or all three. Smuggled migrants are vulnerable to exploitation and their lives are often put at risk: thousands of smuggled migrants have suffocated in containers, perished in deserts or drowned at sea. Many others have fallen victim to human trafficking as a result of having been first smuggled. Migrant smuggling generates enormous profits for the criminals involved and fuels corruption and organized crime. Migrant smuggling is a deadly business.

Addressing migrant smuggling needs a comprehensive approach

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is aware of the fact that law enforcement measures alone cannot prevent migrant smuggling. Where not combined with a holistic approach, increased border controls may simply have the result of diverting migrant smuggling routes elsewhere, and of increasing the demand for more risky services. Where migrants are simply returned to their countries of nationality or residence without consideration for the underlying root causes which made them migrate, they may simply attempt to migrate again - perhaps under more dangerous conditions than those endured before. There are important push and pull factors which influence a person to become a smuggled migrant. All of them must be addressed in a comprehensive way, based upon a multi-dimensional partnership, which has to involve States, civil society, academia, the media, state institutions and international organizations.

As the guardian of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (Migrant Smuggling Protocol) both supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), the primary goal of UNODC with respect to combating the smuggling of migrants is to promote global adherence to the Migrant Smuggling Protocol and to assist States in their efforts to effectively implement it. As Article 2 outlines:

"the purpose of this Protocol is to prevent and combat the smuggling of migrants as well as to promote cooperation among State Parties to that end, while protecting the rights of smuggled migrants."


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's full address can be read here.

Download fact sheet: Impact of the economic crisis on trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling.

To read more about migrant smuggling click here.

To read more about human trafficking click here.

To read more UNODC anti-trafficking and migrant smuggling news, click here.

For UNODC tools and publications, click here.

To contact the UNODC Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Unit, click here.