A Regional Response to Smuggling of Migrants
12 May 2016 Johannesburg, South Africa
On 10 – 12 May 2016 the senior officials from 11 SADC member states representing the Immigration authorities, Police, Prosecutors and ministries of Justice joined together to discuss the way to address the growing challenge of smuggling of migrants in the SADC Region.
The workshop, the first one of this kind, was organised by SADC Secretariat and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to discuss the smuggling of migrant’s trends and patterns in the Region, and share ideas of possible regional response to this challenge.
Despite the existing regulations of legal migration systems, people in the SADC region move continuously for a range of reasons – to seek employment, to escape poverty, to reunite with their families, to flee internal conflict. However, the difficulty in accessing legal channels for migration often forces individuals to rely on the services of smugglers to reach their destination.
Migrant smuggling generate large profits for the criminals involved – whether they are migrant smugglers or traffickers in the form of agents or employers. Both are low-risk and high-profit crimes. The participants of the workshop voiced particular concern on the increased trend of unaccompanied minors smuggled into the Region and the exposure of women and children to sexual abuse during smuggling.
While South Africa was identified as the main destination in the Region for smuggled migrants, the criminal justice practitioners agreed that due to the scope and implications of illegal migration not a single country can deal with it alone. Smuggling of migrants became a security challenge in the Region as it undermines the states’ ability to protect national borders and puts the lives and safety of migrants at risk while generating enormous profits for criminals, fuelling corruption and organised crime.
The SADC has developed a draft Regional Strategy to Combat Illegal Migration, Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons in order to operationalize the regional 10-year Strategy to combat trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. SADC has also put in place the SADC Anti-Corruption Committee in line with its Protocol against Corruption in order to strengthen measures against amongst others alleged corrupt officials working at borders.
However, despite these regional cooperation initiatives the number of criminal cases against smugglers are critically low. The criminal justice practitioners acknowledged lack of a specific national legislations and cross-border cooperation that would enable the effective criminal justice response to this issue.
“In the absence of a specific law on smuggling of migrants, it is difficult to apprehend smugglers. We only have immigration laws which are quite lenient and deal only with illegal entry, illegal stay, and illegal exit from the country. We end up only apprehending the smuggled migrants, and not the criminal networks behind the smuggling,” highlighted a participant of the workshop.
The workshop has provided a much-need platform to fill in some information gaps around smuggling of migrants in the SADC Region and enable SADC Member States to jointly map a way forward in addressing this challenge in line with the requirements of the United Nations Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.