UNODC reports on migrant smuggling patterns in 14 Asian countries

Bangkok (Thailand), 21 August 2012 - Against a backdrop of limited information on migrant smuggling and irregular migration, UNODC launched today two reports which, for the very first time, consolidate existing research literature on migrant smuggling in 14 countries across Asia.

The reports, Migrant Smuggling in Asia: A Thematic Review of Literature and the accompanying Annotated Bibliography, provide a systematic review of available empirical knowledge on smuggling of migrants. The result is an information base which identifies gaps in what is known about the smuggling of migrants around, in and out of Asia into Europe, North America and Australia and the Pacific.

Produced with financial support from the Government of Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the two publications are the first major products of the Coordination and Analysis (CAU) unit of the UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific. UNODC conducted the research in support of the Bali Process, which is a regional, multilateral process to improve cooperation against migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons and related forms of transnational crimes.

"Migrant smuggling is a high-profit, low-risk business. It can be a deadly business. And we need to counter it with consistent policies founded on the best available information," said Gary Lewis, Regional Representative, UNODC East Asia and the Pacific. "These baseline reports - and others in the pipeline - represent steady progress towards a regional voluntary reporting system on migrant smuggling."

Migrant smuggling remains a significant challenge throughout the region. Abuse of legal entry channels and the misuse of legal travel documents obtained by fraudulent means continue to play an important role in facilitating migrant smuggling. Smuggled and irregular migrants are exposed to considerable danger during the smuggling process, and are often left vulnerable to human trafficking on reaching their destination.

By consolidating information currently accessible on migrant smuggling, the Thematic Review of Literature aims to guide further research that will contribute evidence-based policies to prevent and combat the smuggling of migrants while simultaneously upholding and protecting the rights of those who are smuggled.

During 2011, UNODC conducted research into existing knowledge, and knowledge gaps, on migrant smuggling in Asia. Focusing on 14 countries in the region - Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam - the research examined existing knowledge across a broad range of key issues, including understanding of basic concepts, research methods, availability of quantitative data, profiles of smugglers and smuggled migrants, modus operandi, financial flows, and supply-demand factors.

The project began with a search of 44 databases, one meta-library catalogue, three institution-specific library catalogues and 39 websites of institutions that work on migrant smuggling. This resulted in 845 documents that were then closely reviewed against a set of research criteria. Ultimately, 154 documents were identified as relevant and formed the basis of the Thematic Review of Literature. Abstracts of those documents are provided in the Annotated Bibliography.

The Reports found large knowledge gaps in research on migrant smuggling and a highly fragmented information base. Accurate data on the extent of migrant smuggling either rarely exists or could not be accessed by researchers. A lack of clarity with terminology means that research literature on irregular migration contributes only in a limited way to increasing policy-makers' and law enforcement's understanding of migrant smuggling. Finally, available research only focuses on a few types of flows or a few thematic issues and varies considerably in depth of focus and quality.

"It's clear from the reports that migrant smuggling has not attracted a critical amount of research attention," said Sebastian Baumeister, Migrant Smuggling Analyst with UNODC East Asia and the Pacific. "The good news is that high-quality research on migrant smuggling is feasible: We located some very high-quality research on the profile of migrant smugglers, and the organization and financial aspects of the smuggling business. However, this research was limited to specific locations or contexts, making it difficult to know if the research findings are applicable generally or specific to certain locations and contexts," Mr. Baumeister concluded.

The Thematic Review puts forward a number of policy recommendations to improve evidence-based knowledge on migrant smuggling and irregular migration. In particular, UNODC calls upon member states to make use of the Voluntary Reporting System on Migrant Smuggling and Related Conduct (VRS-MSRC) in support of the Bali Process, which UNODC has developed in close consultation with states in response to the 4 th Bali Process Ministerial Meeting in March 2011.

THE VRS-MSRC is an important step in mobilizing relevant countries to share their data. Developed by UNODC in consultation with law enforcement and immigration officials throughout Asia, the Pacific, Europe and North America, the VRS-MSRC is an internet-based system that facilitates the collection, sharing and use for analytical purposes of migrant smuggling data and irregular migration.

To be launched in late 2012, the VRS-MSRC securely and instantly provides state authorities with up-to-date data at the click of a button, while UNODC will use the data for strategic analysis and reporting.