VIENNA, 18 December 2013 - Today is International Migrants Day, established by the UN General Assembly in 2000 to promote the protection of the rights of all migrants.
As the October Lampedusa tragedy made clear, if States are to fulfil this promise we need to do more to end the abuse of migrants at the hands of migrant smugglers.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as the guardian of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants, works with Member States to help establish legislation and otherwise strengthen and coordinate responses to go after the criminals and stop migrant smuggling.
Although we have seen important progress since the Protocol came into force nearly a decade ago, we need better protection and more support for smuggled migrants.
Too often law enforcement responses are limited to border control and intercepting irregular migrants, who may lack the authorization or documents required of the destination country. But such measures do little to deter the smugglers, who are solely motivated by realizing criminal profit and simply adapt their methods and shift routes, potentially making the journey for migrants even more perilous.
Stopping migrant smuggling requires comprehensive action, aimed at preventing and disrupting migrant smuggling at the earliest possible stages through better intelligence and building capacities to address the problem. Prevention can only succeed if there is strong cooperation and support between countries of origin, transit and destination.
Moreover, criminal organizations take advantage of systems of immigration control, border protection and public security that are weakened by corruption. Combating corruption is therefore an essential element of any effective strategy to address migrant smuggling.
At the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development at the UN General Assembly this year, Member States unanimously adopted a Declaration recognizing the important contribution of migration to development, and calling for greater cooperation to address the challenges of irregular migration and to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration.
The rights of all migrants, regardless of their legal status, must be protected, with particular attention paid to the special needs of asylum seekers and refugees, children and trafficking victims. Suspected violations by migrant smugglers warrant criminal investigation, prosecution and the full weight of criminal penalties.
Migrant smuggling is a serious crime. If we are to protect the rights of all migrants, we need to treat it like one.
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