Vienna, 18 December 2014 - There is seemingly no end to tragic reports of migrants losing their lives on desperate voyages to safer havens. These perilous journeys undertaken by hundreds of thousands of women, men and children are mostly facilitated by criminal smuggling rings.
Smugglers subject migrants to unsafe conditions and abuse, and sometimes rape and torture. Many migrants are subjected to the predations of still other criminals, to kidnapping and extortion, while en route to their destinations. Their precarious circumstances can render them vulnerable to human traffickers, who exploit their need for money and lack of legal options to induce them into sexual exploitation or other forced labour.
In December, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime joined the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, the International Maritime Organization and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in calling for action to stop the loss of life, injury, trauma and serious human rights violations affecting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees travelling by sea.
These obligations to protect, assist and conduct search and rescue apply regardless of the migration status of the persons in distress.
It is also important to emphasize that in these endeavours, we should not accept a false dichotomy between pursuing criminal migrant smugglers and protecting migrants.
States are obligated to do both by the Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants under the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which has been ratified by 141 countries. A resolution to strengthen this international cooperation was further agreed by the UN Economic and Social Council in July.
The Protocol provides a solid basis for closer coordination between countries of origin, transit and destination to deter and punish smugglers, strengthen prevention and protect the rights of migrants, while ensuring humanitarian assistance.
As guardian of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols against migrant smuggling and human trafficking, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime assists the international community in developing comprehensive strategies that include prevention and protection measures.
We support a multifaceted, inter-regional approach that seeks to build up criminal justice responses in all countries along smuggling routes, as well as improve the capacity of front line officers, investigators and magistrates to identify and assist smuggled migrants and investigate and prosecute smuggling networks.
In this way we can help bring criminals to justice and ensure that responses by States uphold human rights, as well as recognize the specific protection needs of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
Migrant smugglers are quick to exploit gaps, adapting and changing their routes and means of operation as needed. This is also why international cooperation is so crucial, to ensure responses in one area do not simply shift smuggling operations elsewhere, or put desperate migrants at still greater risk.
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