IOM, UNODC Strengthen Cooperation to Counter Migrant Smuggling and Address Irregular Migration in the Asia Pacific Region

Intelligence-led operational decision-making and increased cooperation is imperative to address irregular migration and protect vulnerable migrants.

Which is why today (11 June), Dr. Nenette Motus, the Regional Director for the International Organization for Migration’s Asia and the Pacific Region and Mr. Jeremy Douglas, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Regional Representative for South East Asia and the Pacific affirmed the two organizations’ joint initiative to counter migrant smuggling and address irregular migration within the Asia Pacific region.

The joint initiative will enhance collaboration between the two United Nations agencies to improve evidence-based research on current and new smuggling trends by sharing information, particularly in relation to travel documents and identity fraud and also build capacities of law enforcement agencies in the region. This initiative is guided by the well-established 2012 Cooperation Agreement and the 2018 Joint Platform on Countering Migrant Smuggling between the two agencies. The signing of these exchange of letters falls a few months before the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and related two protocols against trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling.

Dr. Motus said: “IOM welcomes this joint initiative which will build on the operational strengths of both organizations and benefit Member States in the region. Irregular migration, in particular migrant smuggling, exacerbates vulnerabilities of those already facing perilous situations, often at the high cost of human lives and high profits for transnational criminal networks.” She added, “This cooperation will enable a comprehensive approach to securing the safety of migrants ensuring that cross border mobility takes place within the rule of law aligned with developmental, humanitarian and security interests of both migrants and states.”

Representative Douglas commented “UNODC is committed to collaboratively countering migrant smuggling and dismantling criminal networks. Smuggling of migrants is a transnational crime and the response also needs to be transnational, and a regional approach is crucial to closing the gap.”

Global travel restrictions in place due to the current unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic have not deterred the movement of people. Instead these restrictions have in some instances led to an increase in the smuggling of migrants from the most affected countries to more affluent destinations, according to a recent UNODC report It is also possible that land, sea and air border closures, have resulted in the use of more risky routes, and higher prices for smuggling services, exposing migrants and refugees to increased abuse, exploitation and human trafficking. Furthermore, undocumented migrants are particularly vulnerable as the lack of legal status impedes further mobility which may fuel the demand for smuggling services and exacerbate risks for migrants.

To address migrant smuggling and irregular migration leveraging on respective operational strengths, IOM and UNODC have identified synergies including data sharing platforms that Member States in the region are currently utilizing. This initiative also supports key target countries to collect, share and analyse data in order to identify regional patterns and modus operandi of irregular migration for the benefit of border and other law enforcement agencies.

As the guardian of the United Nations Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants supplementing the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, UNODC supports Member States to strengthen and advance their responses to these issues. UNODC also supports member states to fulfil their obligations outlined in the UN Convention through legislative assistance and capacity building of criminal justice practitioners; as well as dismantle organized criminal groups, protect the rights of smuggled migrants and strengthen cross border cooperation.

IOM remains committed to facilitate orderly, safe and regular migration and mobility and to that end, its Immigration and Border Management Division supports Member States in improving policy, legislation, operational systems, human resources and administrative as well as technical structures required to respond more effectively to diverse migration and border management challenges. For instance, the Document Examination Support Center initiative a regionally coordinated programme, provides technical guidance, advice and support in curbing transnational organized crime and preventing irregular migration through capacity building to law enforcement agencies in travel document examination and verification, as well as facilitating regional cooperation.