New UNODC Observatory: Research to Help Understand Migrant Smuggling

© Yasser Rezahi

Vienna (Austria), 20 May 2021 – Where borders are difficult or impossible to cross regularly, migrant smugglers facilitate movements of people along land, sea, and air routes. We need to learn more about this crime to be able to prevent and address it. UNODC today launched the Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants, which provides up-to-date information and analysis by the UNODC Research team.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not halted smuggling operations; for example, two and a half times as many people arrived irregularly by sea to Europe in 2020 as in 2019. By its very nature, migrant smuggling is a cross-border crime. It demands the attention of the international community, as it all too often has negative implications for the human rights of the people who are smuggled.

At an event launching the Observatory during the 30th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said: “As part of UNODC’s work to help countries implement the Protocol against migrant smuggling, we have been expanding the knowledge base through data collection and analysis. The first-ever Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants takes our research efforts one step further."

"The information and insights generated by the Observatory will feed into our technical assistance programmes and allow us to provide greater value to all of our partners, complementing the migration data made available by other UN agencies.”

UNODC is committed to improving States’ capacities to combat migrant smuggling and protect the human rights of people who are smuggled. Research on the smuggling of migrants is essential to ensure evidence-based and effective responses from policymakers, based on accurate, up-to-date and reliable data and analysis.

The Observatory’s use of qualitative interviews alongside quantitative data provides rich and detailed analysis, allowing UNODC to present findings as an engaging and accessible narrative on a new, interactive website.

The Observatory answers questions such as: Who uses smugglers? Which routes do they take? How is it paid for? Who are the smugglers? It also analyses the abuses people suffer in the context of migrant smuggling, either at the hands of smugglers or other actors, and examines the effectiveness of counter-smuggling activities in preventing the crime and protecting the rights of smuggled people.

Research data will be uploaded on the website in phases, providing real-time information on smuggling of migrants along key smuggling routes. This first phase presents an analysis of the inter-connected West African, North African and Central Mediterranean routes.

The event was co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the UN in Vienna.