The problem of human smuggling is a global phenomenon. Humans are smuggled for a variety of reasons, most of which typically involve some form of economic exploitation (Kyle and Koslowski, 2011). People are smuggled across state and international borders, and are sometimes moved great distances. Individuals may willingly seek the services of smugglers in order to enter other countries or regions in search of work. Others may be moved against their will, and forced to work in every sector from agriculture and manufacturing to prostitution and pornography. Women and children are especially vulnerable to these forms of exploitation, though people from different genders, ages, and backgrounds may be victims of human smuggling (GMG, n.d.). The international community has taken significant steps to combat human smuggling, but it remains a global problem with no easy solutions.
Human smuggling is not a new phenomenon; humans have been enslaved, exploited, and moved from one area to another for all of human history. While the Atlantic Slave Trade in the middle of the second millennium is sometimes viewed as ancient history, many of the same factors that allowed it to develop and continue still exist today. Individuals are smuggled into and out of different nations and regions by the millions, and are economically exploited in a wide range of different types of work and other sectors.
Individuals often willingly travel from one nation to another in search of work, though it could be argued that many of these individuals are still forced or coerced by the economic or social conditions in their homelands to look for economic opportunities elsewhere (MSWG, n.d). Others are fleeing war, genocide, or persecution, and become refugees in other countries through both legal and extra-legal means (GMG, n.d). In many instances, however, humans are smuggled against their will, or are tricked or coerced into accepting offers of work or other opportunities that seem legitimate, but are really disguising awaiting systems of exploitation (GMG, n.d.). Women and children are often smuggled to be used in the sex trades, or to serve in domestic and other capacities in roles that are little more than slavery.
The phenomenon known as “globalization” has helped to contribute to problems related to human smuggling. In recent decades, many nations have opened their borders to more free trade, and international and transnational trade and travel on a global scale is now common. The same free trade agreements and the loosening of other restrictions that make it possible for goods and people to move across borders legally also make it possible for smugglers to move contraband and illegal immigrants across these same borders (UNODC, 2013). The movement towards freer and more open trade has also opened up new economic and employment opportunities in many parts of the developing world, making it more attractive to individuals to purposefully move to seek work and for smugglers to exploit individuals who wish to cross borders illegally.
- The Response of the International Community
Just as human smuggling is a worldwide phenomenon, the responsibility for combating the problems and issues associated with it lies both with individual states and non-governmental organizations and with the international community as a whole. The loosening of global trade and travel restrictions has also had a significant influence on the power and the reach of the state, and borders that become too weak threaten the autonomy and sovereignty of the state (Kyle and Koslowski). As one of the most powerful nations in the world, the U.S has taken a lead role in combating human smuggling. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which oversees U.S. domestic security, monitors the movement of goods and people across borders, and investigates threats against the U.S. One of the main sub-departments of DHS is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is directly responsible for monitoring illegal entry into the U.S. and for deporting or detaining illegal aliens. As part of their function, ICE investigates issues related to human smuggling, and works with other U.S. agencies and international organizations to attempt to limit human smuggling. ICE is also responsible for investigating the human smuggling operations that help people move across borders illegally (ice.gov, n.d.).
Just as the U.S. has organizations such as DHS and ICE to investigate and combat human smuggling, other nations have their own investigate organizations. On an international level, members of the United Nations collaborate and cooperate on the issue of human smuggling through the development of agencies such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). UNODC helps to coordinate the activities of various international organizations, both of governmental and law enforcement agencies and the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities, and other organizations dedicated to combating human smuggling (UNODC, 2013).
In 2002 the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime (known commonly as The Bali Process) was developed to provide a framework for cooperation among different international governments to raise awareness of, and deal with, problems related to human smuggling (UNODC, 2013). The Bali Process identifies core areas of common concern as well as mutual agreements for cooperation among international legislators and law-enforcement agencies. UNODC and several other international organizations have signed on to this voluntary framework, but it does not have the strength of international law. Other resources available to international organizations and governments is a database developed by UNODC that adheres to the standards of the Bali Process, and provides information and statistics about legislation, international legal efforts, and other approaches to fighting the problem of human smuggling.
While there are clearly no easy solutions to the problem of international human smuggling, it is clear that increased international cooperation will be key to reducing the problem. Individual nations may seek to reduce or eliminate the effects of human smuggling across or within their borders, but its global nature means that nations cannot fight the problem alone. The United Nations and other cooperating agencies and organizations must continue to push for the adoption of the Bali Process criteria by countries and organizations around the world. Giving the Bali Process the force of international law, and standardizing information and regulations on a global scale, would likely go a long way to reducing the problems associated with human smuggling. The launch of the UNODC database is a positive development; UNODC and other organizations must do all they can to ensure that the database information is easily and readily accessible to any and all organizations that seek to reduce the rate of human smuggling. Further, those states that facilitate human smuggling or the transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) that engage in it must be treated strictly and consistently according to the international standards set by the Bali Process (Kyle and Koslowski).
It is unlikely that the problem of human smuggling will lessen in the foreseeable future. The trend towards increasing globalization economically, politically, culturally, and socially will only make it easier for people to illegally move or be moved across international borders. At best, those organizations responsible for responding to and dealing with issues related to human smuggling can, at best, only hope to contain the problem and try to stunt its growth to whatever extent is possible. The international community must also recognize the economic, social, and political factors that make human smuggling both possible and lucrative, and work together on issues of legal immigration to lessen the allure to smugglers and smuggled alike.
Chardy, A. (2013, June 19). Coast Guard: South Florida relatives fueling Haitian migrant smuggling. Miami Herald [Miami].
Global Migration Group (GMG) – Migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2013, from http://www.globalmigrationgroup.org/en/addressing-vulnerabilities-associated-with-migration/migrant-smuggling-and-trafficking-in-persons
Kyle, D., & Koslowski, R. (2011). Global human smuggling: Comparative perspectives. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Migrant Smuggling Working Group (MSWG) – TC Beirne School of Law – The University of Queensland, Australia. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2013, from http://www.law.uq.edu.au/migrantsmuggling
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (n.d.). Human Smuggling. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from http://www.ice.gov/human-smuggling/
UNODC (2013, July 24). UNODC launches migrant smuggling data sharing system for state authorities. Retrieved August 15, 2013, from https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/2013/July/unodc-launches-migrant-smuggling-data-sharing-system-for-state-authorities.html