UNODC underscores the lack of justice for migrant victims of abuse


Despite the seriousness of these crimes, the response of the authorities in the matter is scarce and, worse still, in some cases, officials are complicit of these abuses.

These are some of the main conclusions of a study published by the Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section (HTMSS) of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that focuses on trafficking routes. transit of West and North Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and Central America.


Cover of the report “Abuse and neglect: A gender perspective on the aggravated crimes of migrant smuggling and its response”

The report Abuse and Neglect – A Gender Perspective on Aggravated Migrant Smuggling and Response also focuses on the different types of violence inflicted on men and women and presents the underlying factors and motivations that lead to abuses that exacerbate the crime. of smuggling migrants.

“Our research showed that violence is used by traffickers or other perpetrators as a form of punishment, intimidation or coercion, and often inflicted for no apparent reason, “said Morgane Nicot, head of the Human Trafficking Section’s knowledge development team.

“We found that migrant men are mainly subjected to forced labor and physical violence, while women are more exposed to sexual violence, which causes unwanted pregnancies and abortions. All genders can suffer inhuman and degrading treatment, “he added.

How the traffickers operate

Migrant smuggling is a criminal activity that consists of, in exchange for a payment for the smuggler, in organizing border crossings illegally for people who are desperate to leave their countries of origin but who encounter barriers in accessing legal means to emigrate.

These people can flee a natural disaster, conflict, persecution or gender-based violence. They can also be motivated by the need for opportunities for employment, education and family reunification.

Professor Gabriela Sánchez, a criminal justice researcher at Texas A&M International University, stated during the presentation of the report that not all traffic is carried out by networks.

“The smuggling of migrants is facilitated by people, men and women who organize themselves in a wide variety of ways. In Central America, these can range from people operating individually and carrying out activities such as transporting people in their own cars, sheltering them in their homes, and from groups of indigenous or displaced people that generate resources from their knowledge of the territory, to groups with resources that allow people to be transported by air and with official, legitimate documents ” , he exposed.

Few information

Although the tragic fate of the thousands of smuggled migrants who die at sea each year, perish in deserts or suffocate in containers is documented, little information is available on the motives for the acts of violence and the abuses to which immigrants are subjected, the impact this has on them and how the authorities handle it.

“That is why we decided to carry out this investigation. Our study also looks at how law enforcement officials respond to cases of aggravated smuggling and highlights the difficulties they face in prosecuting these crimes.” Nicot explained.

Extensive interviews with trafficked migrants and reports from UNODC partners who work directly with migrant victims of abuse confirm that the use of violence is very widespread on certain routes of illicit traffic.

However, there is little evidence that these crimes lead to investigations or legal proceedings, especially in the transit countries where they are committed.

UNHCR / Marta Martínez

About 20 Central American women have painted a mural in Tapachula, Mexico, to mark 16 days of activism against gender violence.

Fear of reporting

Some migrants are reluctant to report abuse because of fear of being treated like criminals for their irregular immigration status or for having aborted, had sexual relations outside of marriage or with members of the same sex, acts that are punishable in some countries.

“Migrants do not report either because a significant part of the abuses come from public officials involved in the migrant smuggling operation, “Nicot explained.

According to Carlos Pérez, UNODC Crime Prevention Officer, as a result of the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hurricanes at the end of 2020, in some Central American countries the routes and activity of trafficking networks have become more complex, increasing the risks of violence and abuse, and aggravating the occurrence of other related crimes on migrants.

“The difficulties encountered by traffickers on the routes have configured a crime in which organized crime takes advantage of the dynamics of local communities in a way of commodification and control of the route”, Pérez pointed out.

He specified the native communities and the populations in a situation of displacement are some of the groups “instrumentalized by the networks to facilitate crossings and land passage and remove benefit of territorial knowledge of the border crossings. “

The study offers guidance to criminal justice professionals on how to investigate and prosecute cases of violence and abuse during international migrant smuggling operations, taking into account the different security needs and gender-related rights violations of migrants.

It also lists a series of recommendations for UN member states to respond efficiently to illicit trafficking of migrants and, at the same time, protect those people and bring more traffickers to justice to end the impunity surrounding these crimes.  

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