COVID-19 measures likely to lead to an increase in migrant smuggling and human trafficking in longer term, UNODC report finds

COVID-19 travel and movement restrictions are not stopping the movement of people fleeing conflict, human rights abuses, violence and dangerous living conditions, according to a report launched by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The closure of land, sea and air borders, however, may result in an increase smuggling of migrants. People have an even greater need for the services of smugglers in order to cross borders. Closures and restrictions also often result in the use of more risky routes and conditions, and higher prices for smuggling services, exposing migrants and refugees to increased abuse, exploitation and human trafficking.

The threat of COVID-19 has not stopped the ongoing conflict in Libya either. Before the conflict, many West Africans migrated to Libya in order to find work. Since then, many of those working in Libya have tried to leave, boarding vessels at seaports on the Northern coast of the country in order to arrive in Italy or, in a smaller number of cases, Malta.

Since the beginning of 2020, a total of 3,366 people have arrived in Italy irregularly from Libya and Tunisia (as of 27 April), which represents a significant increase compared to the same period in 2019 (667 people).

A preliminary analysis suggests that the COVID-19 crisis has not had a significant effect in terms of disrupting smuggling operations, as people continue to be smuggled along this route. Furthermore, in times of pandemic, refugees and migrants are also exposed to the health threat of the virus and often have limited or no access to proper treatment or basic sanitary conditions.

UNODC’s latest Research Brief analyzes possible scenarios of how cross-border smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons to North America and Europe may be affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

The report is available online here. 

Earlier UNODC also compiled a thematic brief that shows how the COVID19 pandemic impacts the identification of human trafficking victims: Read the report here: Preliminary findings and messaging based on rapid stocktaking 


For more information:

Victims of trafficking at greater risk due to COVID-19 pandemic

Press Release :