Connecting the World to Stop Migrant Smugglers


Brasília, 16 March 2023 – The smuggling of migrants affects all regions of the world and is often facilitated by organized criminal groups. Smuggling routes, from their points of origin to their destinations, often combine land, sea, and air segments, and are rarely limited to a single mode of transport.

The organized criminal groups involved in migrant smuggling pose a risk not only to the countries affected by their criminal activities, but also to the safety of the people they smuggle, who are often exposed to mistreatment and abuse during their journey.

Despite continued efforts by individual countries to combat this crime, the problem persists. Differences in legal systems, institutional frameworks, and language barriers, in addition to limited resources, lack of reliable data and insufficient information sharing among law enforcement agencies, hinder cooperative efforts, effective detection, investigation and prosecution of criminal groups engaged in migrant smuggling.

From 14 to 16 March 2023, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) brought together, for the second time after the first meeting organized in Dubai in March 2022, investigators and prosecutors from 14 countries affected by the transregional smuggling route from Asia to the Americas.

“We are on the right track to create a transregional community to combat the smuggling of migrants with strong channels of communication, more effective cooperation and coordination,” said Panagiotis Papadimitriou, Head of the Technical Cooperation Team at the UNODC Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section.

Migrant smuggling is the facilitation, for financial or other material gain, of irregular entry into a country where the migrant is not a national or resident. The criminals behind this highly profitable business often violate human rights.

“We should always take into account the protection of the rights of migrants, who are often exposed to a range of human rights violations along the route to their destination,” said Tatyana Friedrich, Director of the Department of Migration of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security of Brazil.

“It is important to prioritize the non-criminalization of migrants when promoting cooperation between law enforcement agencies to combat this crime,” she added.

Participants from Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Honduras, the Maldives, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Turks and Caicos and United Arab Emirates discussed trends, patterns, and challenges in their countries and explored ways to strengthen south-south cooperation.

“In order to combat migrant smuggling, it is crucial to address other crimes committed in parallel by organized criminal groups, such as corruption and money laundering,” said Stella Scampini, Federal Prosecutor in Brazil.

“This meeting was very important to discuss the outcomes of the activities under the STARSOM, project, share experiences, and exchange ideas on the way forward for more impactful initiatives and deeper cooperation,” said Papadimitriou.

The meeting was organized by UNODC in the framework of the STARSOM project (“Strengthening Trans-regional Action and Responses against the Smuggling of Migrants”), funded by the Government of Canada through its Anti-Crime Capacity Building Programme. UNODC’s initiative “Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants” (GLO.ACT), funded by the European Union, also contributed to the meeting.


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