Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for joining us for the launch of the Observatory on Smuggling of Migrants. I am grateful to Denmark for co-organizing this event with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Every day, people in desperate circumstances rely on smugglers to take them across country borders, towards the promise of a better life.
Many smuggled migrants are subject to exploitation and abuse during long and dangerous journeys that too often end in tragedy.
The COVID pandemic has not stopped migrant smugglers. Flows to Europe on the three major Mediterranean migrant smuggling routes have continued, with an increase noted so far in 2021.
Drivers of migration already present before the pandemic, such as poverty and the lack of opportunities, have only been amplified in the crisis.
The UN Network on Migration, of which UNODC is a core member, issued an urgent statement at the start of the Commission session, calling on countries to prevent and combat migrant smuggling, and protect migrants’ rights, including through full implementation of the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants.
The Protocol provides its 150 parties with a clear framework for the criminalization of migrant smuggling, and sets out obligations to protect smuggled migrants from prosecution and violence, with special attention to women and children.
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 Observatory offers an interactive website providing real-time, policy-relevant information and analysis on smuggling of migrants along the main routes, based on quantitative and qualitative research.
The first phase, being launched today, analyzes the main dynamics of migrant smuggling by land and sea along the inter-connected West African, North African and Central Mediterranean routes.
The data reveals that the majority of smuggled migrants in 2020 came from North Africa and South Asia, representing a shift from recent years, when smuggled migrants mostly came from West Africa.
The information sheds light on the types of criminal organizations active in the region and their operations, the routes used, as well as the modalities and financial aspects of the transactions. Corruption emerges as a key enabler of migrant smuggling.
The Observatory analyzes the abuses suffered by migrants at the hands of smugglers and other actors, presenting heartbreaking first-person testimony on grave human rights violations such as torture, as well as forced labour and sexual exploitation.
Furthermore, the Observatory seeks to examine the effectiveness of responses to prevent this crime and protect the rights of smuggled people.
I sincerely thank Denmark, Canada, Italy, and Japan for their generous support of this pioneering project. I also encourage all of our partners to strengthen their commitment to shared resources and joint action, so that together, we can end impunity for smugglers and save lives.
Under UNODC’s new Strategy for 2021-2025, we will further strengthen linkages and synergies between our normative, capacity-building and research activities. The information and insights generated by the Observatory will feed into our technical assistance programmes.
In 2020 alone, our Office supported 83 countries in developing adequate legislation, training law enforcement and criminal justice professionals, and establishing transnational professional networks, to enable effective investigations, dismantle criminal organizations, facilitate prosecution of smugglers, and trace the financial proceeds of this crime.
In these efforts we worked closely with our UN partners such as IOM, as well as with INTERPOL. The Observatory will also enable us to provide greater value to our partners, complementing the migration data made available by other UN agencies
The Observatory will further contribute to the realization of an important component of UNODC’s Strategic Vision for Africa 2030, aiming to make Africans safer from human traffickers and migrant smugglers.
I look forward to the expansion of the Observatory’s geographical scope to the Western Mediterranean route, Nigeria, and the Atlantic route in the coming months, as well as East Africa, the Horn of Africa and other routes in the coming years.
I thank all of you for your interest in this project, and I hope today’s discussion will inspire more stakeholders to support international research cooperation on migrant smuggling.