Webinar: Criminal justice responses to human trafficking and migrant smuggling in times of COVID-19 and beyond

Dhaka, Bangladesh, 12 June 2020 – A recent report by UNODC demonstrates that the COVID-19 pandemic has indeed done much to highlight the existing vulnerabilities of people at risk of human trafficking and smuggling, making UNODC’s work in assisting countries with strengthening their criminal justice response to these crimes all the more relevant. Under the framework of GLO.ACT-Bangladesh, UNODC and IOM jointly organized on 11 June 2020 an online national consultation with the aim to specifically address the country’s criminal justice response to Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Smuggling of Migrants (SOM) in times of COVID-19 and beyond. The event was organized in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. 

Mia Seppo, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, opened the consultation webinar to 100 participants (44 female and 56 male) by highlighting the importance of turning commitments into actions through a unified approach. Touching upon the recent tragic killing of 26 Bangladeshi migrants in Libya on 27 May 2020, Ms. Seppo explained that “the COVID-19 world has further magnified the inequalities and vulnerabilities, and Bangladesh has had to pay the tragic toll on more than one occasion.” Meanwhile, Maurizio Cian, Head of Cooperation, Delegation of the EU to Bangladesh reminded participants that, “human trafficking has no place in Europe or anywhere else in the world.”

Summarising the key facets of a strong criminal justice response, Masud Bin Momen, Foreign Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that “safe and regular migration, as well as the dignified return of migrants, is the priority of the Government of Bangladesh. The focus lies therefore on prevention, victim identification, and protection, as well as on investigation, prosecution and adjudication of human traffickers and migrant smugglers.” 

The webinar builds upon a previous consultation held with members of the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Technical Working Group (CTIPTWG) established under the Bangladesh United Nations Network on Migration (BDUNNM). The recommendations issued at the conclusion of this consultation formed the starting point of the discussions at the webinar:  

  • Analysing and responding to the impact of COVID-19 on TIP and SOM; 

  • Enhancing understanding of the different dimensions of the crimes and implementing policies accordingly; 

  • Advocating for the ratification of the UN Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by land, sea and air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. 

Ratification of the Protocol would encourage a more effective national response to combatting both TIP and SOM whilst simultaneously ameliorating Bangladesh’s capacity to render justice to the victims. During the live webinar several participants advocated for its ratification, noting that this would be a decisive step to complement the government’s ongoing efforts. 

The importance of a human rights and gender-sensitive approach was similarly reiterated by several speakers, including Nasima Begum, NDC, Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh, who said; “human rights must be at the centre of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Inclusive measures aimed at protecting the rights and health of the whole population, including all migrants and trafficked persons, regardless of their migration status, are urgent and necessary.” 

Md. Golam Sarwar, Secretary, Law and Justice Division, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, referred to the recent initiative of using virtual courts to prosecute trafficking crimes as an example of prioritising human rights and access to justice during the COVID-19. Mr. Sarwar stated that “the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs is always ready to take part in any actions, measures to combat human trafficking and migrant smuggling.” 

Following an introduction to GLO.ACT-Bangladesh by UNODC and IOM project coordinators that highlighted that are the core of GLO.ACT’s approach is partnerships and effective joint programming, members of UNODC outlined the essential role research plays in understanding the factors and impacts of trafficking and smuggling. The importance of using such research proactively and cooperating in an international context are both critical aspects of a strong criminal justice approach. Challenges in the criminal justice response in the absence of SOM legislation and training were summarised by GLO.ACT’s Regional Adviser and key policy issues and considerations on TIP and SOM formed the basis for a lively discussion amongst all participants. 

Addressing the webinar, Abu Bakr Siddique, Additional Secretary, Public Security Division, Ministry of Home Affairs, Bangladesh, said, “Bangladesh has placed high priority on the protection of migrants’ rights and interests both at home and abroad.” Encouraged by the motivation of both the high-level speakers and participants during the webinar, the GLO.ACT team are intent on supporting Bangladesh in achieving this.  

The consultation paves the way forward: the suggestions and recommendations voiced by participants will guide GLO.ACT-Bangladesh in producing a strategic position paper. This paper will look at the criminalization of SOM and protection of vulnerable migrants in line with the UN Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. It will also consider how existing laws and policies could be used, in the interim, to strengthen criminal justice measures against smuggling and trafficking networks. Lastly, the paper will also outline future capacity-building training, thereby supporting those who need protection now more than ever. In line with GLO.ACT’s multisectoral, multidisciplinary and integrated efforts, a series of follow-up webinar on criminal justice responses to TIP and SOM in Bangladesh are already being scheduled. 


The Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants - Bangladesh (GLO.ACT - Bangladesh) is a joint initiative by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) being implemented in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). GLO.ACT-Bangladesh builds on a global community of practice set in motion in GLO.ACT 2015-2019 in 13 partner countries across Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.  

Through targeted, innovative and demand-driven interventions, the GLO.ACT aims to support the Government of Bangladesh and civil society organizations to more effectively fight the crimes of human trafficking and migrant smuggling across the country. The project works on developing evidence-based information on trafficking and smuggling patterns and trends, legislative review and harmonization, capability development of criminal justice actors, and international cooperation. The project also provides direct assistance to victims of human trafficking and migrants in vulnerable situations through the strengthening of identification, referral, and protection mechanisms. 

The project is funded by the European Union. 


To read UNODC's Policy Brief on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Trafficking in Persons click here


To read media articles about the event click below:

The Daily Star here and here

Migration News Bangladesh

IOM Bangladesh


For more information, please contact: 

Mahdy Hassan: muhammad.hassan@un.org 


GLO.ACT Bangladesh

Twitter: @glo_act