GLO.ACT convenes a workshop for immigration officials on the issue of migrant smuggling

Pretoria, South Africa - 13 December 2018 - UNODC, under the framework of the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants ( GLO.ACT), and in collaboration with the Department of Home Affairs, facilitated a three day training workshop on the issue of migrant smuggling from 4 to 6 December 2018 for immigration officials. South Africa is in the process of developing specific legislation on the Smuggling of Migrants (SOM) in compliance with its obligations under the United Nations Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. The current legal framework relating to migrant smuggling criminalizes individual migrants and foresees detention and repatriation as a priority. The law does not focus on migrant smuggling as a large-scale criminal activity and penalties for facilitation of irregular border crossing are low. Well-established criminal networks are smuggling migrants to South Africa from Asia, particularly China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The majority transit through the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, East Africa and various Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. Often migrants from these nationalities are sponsored by members of their community residing in RSA and are compelled to work until they can pay off their debt. Migrants are also smuggled from other parts of Africa, notably Ethiopia and Somalia, and many endure human rights abuses, such as kidnapping for ransom and rape. Many migrants enter overland as South Africa's extensive land borders are porous and represent a challenge to effective border measures.

The objectives of the workshop were to:

  • To build the capacity of immigration officials at provincial and national level on identifying and investigating SOM cases;
  • To build the capacity of immigration officials on the protection aspects with regards to smuggled migrants;
  • To facilitate discussions on Trafficking in Persons and SOM and challenges hindering the identification of potential smuggling of migrants cases at ports of entries.

During the opening ceremony of the workshop, Mr. Iglesias Roa Manuel, Head of the Section, Governance and Social Sectors, Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of South Africa said: "Migrant smuggling is a threat to citizens, businesses, state institutions as well as the economy as a whole. Criminals easily operate across borders, which creates a need to strengthen operational cooperation, secure exchange of information, expertise and analytical support between law enforcement agencies within and between countries". He further said, "we trust that through EU funded projects such as GLO.ACT and the Pilot Action on Voluntary Return and Reintegration, South Africa will develop more effective responses to migrant smuggling, including providing assistance to vulnerable migrants through the strengthening of identification, referral, and direct support mechanisms."

Ms. Tebogo Phokanoka, Deputy Director, Immigration Services at the Department of Home Affairs said, "building the capacity of immigration officials on detecting and investigating migrant smuggling cases is very important especially due to the role that immigration officials play at the ports of entries." She went on to say that, "smuggling of migrants cases are currently being detected quite often in the North-West province of South Africa. My hope is that after this training, more SOM cases will begin to be identified and investigated by the immigration officials from the other provinces in South Africa."

Meanwhile, Ms. Zhuldyz Akisheva, UNODC Regional Representative, said "People in the SADC region, like everywhere else, move continuously for a range of reasons. They move to seek employment, to reunite with their families or to flee internal conflict." She went on to say, "despite the existing regulations on legal migration they face difficulties in accessing legal channels for migration and often have to rely on the 'services' of smugglers."

During the workshop, participants identified challenges hindering the identification of SOM cases at port of entries.  Immigration officials stated that due to the mixed migration flows experienced at ports of entries, this poses a challenge in detecting smuggled migrants, they also cited the lack of SOM legislation in South Africa as a challenge in the response to smuggling of migrants. Lastly immigration officials cited the problem of fraudulent passports /documents being produced at ports of entries as a challenge in the response to SOM.

A key outcome of the training workshop included the setting up an informal network for immigration officials to share information on identified SOM cases. This network will address and refer, through correct mechanisms, any potential SOM case that has been identified by immigration officials. In addition, it became clear that a SOM Training of Trainers workshop would need to be convened in close cooperation with the Department of Home Affairs learning academy as part of the institutionalization of SOM training amongst immigration officials.    

Workshop participants included immigration officials from all provinces in South Africa. Also taking part were our donor, the European Union, and GLO.ACT project-implementing partner IOM.

The Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants (GLO.ACT) is a four-year (2015-2019), €11 million joint initiative by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The project is being implemented in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). GLO.ACT aims to provide assistance to governmental authorities and civil society organizations across 13 strategically selected countries: Belarus, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Kyrgyz Republic, Lao PDR, Mali, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Pakistan, South Africa, Ukraine.  GLO.ACT works with the 13 countries to plan and implement strategic national counter-trafficking and counter smuggling efforts through a prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships approach. It supports the development of more effective responses to trafficking and smuggling, including providing assistance to victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants through the strengthening of identification, referral, and direct support mechanisms.

For more information, please contact:

Banele Kunene, National Project Officer,

Twitter: @glo_act