Smuggling of Migrants in Southern Africa: Developing a Regional Response 

On 10 - 12 May 2016 senior officials from 11 member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), representing the field of criminal justice, including immigration authorities, police, prosecutors and ministries of justice joined together to discuss ways to address the growing challenge of smuggling of migrants in the SADC Region.

The Regional Workshop, the first one of this kind, was organised by the SADC Secretariat and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in order to discuss regional trends and patterns of smuggling of migrants and to share ideas for a possible regional response to this challenge. It was delivered within the Regional Programme for Southern Africa, supported by the UNODC Global Programme against the Smuggling of Migrants and the European Union-UNODC Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants - a project UNODC is working on in partnership with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Despite the existing regulations of legal migration systems, people in the SADC region move continuously for a range of reasons - to seek employment, to escape poverty, to reunite with their families, and to flee internal conflict. However, the difficulty in accessing legal channels for migration often forces individuals to rely on the services of smugglers to reach their destination.

Migrant smuggling generates large profits for the criminals involved as it is a low-risk and high-profit crime. The participants of the workshop voiced particular concern over the increased trend of unaccompanied minors smuggled into the Region and the exposure of women and children to sexual abuse during smuggling. Reports delivered during the workshop also showed that Southern Africa serves as a transit and a destination country for people on the move from other regions in Africa, as well as Asia.

While South Africa was identified as the main destination in the Region for smuggled migrants, the participants agreed that due to the scope and implications of irregular migration, no a single country could address the crime on its own. Smuggling of migrants is a security challenge in the Region because it undermines the states' ability to protect national borders and puts the lives and safety of migrants at risk, while generating enormous profits for criminals, in turn fueling corruption and organized crime.

The SADC has developed a draft Regional Strategy to Combat Illegal Migration, Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons in order to put into effect 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 reports of corrupt officials working at borders.

However, despite these regional cooperation initiatives the number of criminal cases against smugglers are critically low. The participants acknowledged a lack of tools for effective criminal justice responses, including lack of specific national legislation and cross-border cooperation that would enable an effective criminal justice response to this issue.

"In the absence of a specific law on smuggling of migrants, it is difficult to apprehend smugglers. We only have immigration laws which are quite lenient and deal only with illegal entry, illegal stay, and illegal exit from the country. We end up only apprehending the smuggled migrants, and not the criminal networks behind the smuggling" highlighted a participant of the workshop.

The workshop provided a much-needed platform to fill in some information gaps around smuggling of migrants in the SADC Region and to enable SADC Member States to jointly map a way forward in addressing this challenge in line with the requirements of the Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and to provide guidance on the development of a plan of action to put into effect the Regional Strategy with regard to addressing the smuggling of migrants along the following four objectives: (1) preventing and (2) combatting the smuggling of migrants, (3) protecting the rights of smuggled migrants, and (4) cooperating to this end.

For further information please contact:

Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section,       htmss AT unodc DOT org