Damaged in Shipment: The Bankable Business of Human Smuggling

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The Manus Regional Processing Center at Lombrum Naval Base, an offshore detention complex formerly administered by private contractors, housed more than 600 asylum-seekers. Last Thursday–November 2nd, 2017–the camp was shut down. With its closing came a humanitarian crisis, as the refugees and asylum seekers who had taken sanctuary there–all men from countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Sudan and western Myanmar, among others–now lack, in addition to shelter, basic services such as food, water and electricity.

Escaping from poverty, natural disasters, violence, armed conflict or persecution in times of worldwide political turmoil have created a new underground business as lucrative as it is deplorable: with the ever-growing interdependence of the global economy, the involvement of criminal groups in the smuggling of migrants is on the rise. It is estimated that two of the principal smuggling routes–leading from East, North and West Africa to Europe and from South America to North America–generate about $6.75 billion a year for criminals.

Crime collectives exploit the lack of opportunities available to desperate refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants, by offering, in their dire situations, services known as “human smuggling”; the facilitation of crossing borders illegally or residing illegally in another country and making material profit off establishing the refugee in the new country. These services range from transportation, often by ramshackle boats built with dangerously cost-cutting budgets, to document fraud, to the lending of stolen passports with photos that resemble the migrants, to the falsification of travel or identity documents, even to the obtaining of genuine passports or visas on the basis of fraudulent supporting documents. The level of safety and ease of reaching the destination depend on the amount of money the migrants are individually able to pay. Migrants with little financial means may opt for a “pay-as-you-go package”, in which they pay bit by bit for different points in the journey to individual smugglers.

Refugees and asylum seekers, as well as vulnerable migrants–such as unaccompanied minors and pregnant women–can be among those who pay the highest price for smuggling services with no guarantee for their safety or the success of the venture: while these asylum-seekers might initially agree to be smuggled into another country, the journey can easily turn into a non-consensual one. During the trip, refugees might be squeezed into exceptionally small spaces–often in the back of trucks or dangerously unseaworthy boats, with barely enough sustenance stored to keep them alive–in order for smugglers to maximize their “cargo”. Women are often particularly vulnerable, and may be raped or beaten en route, or left to die in the desert, and, even once their destination is reached, refugees that they (or their families) are the victims of blackmail or debt bondage.

The inadequacy–or absence–in many parts of the world to address the smuggling of migrants often means that smugglers of migrants can continue to commit the crime with little fear of being brought to justice.

Author: Andrew

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