Migrants who crossed to Spanish enclave Ceuta by swimming across the border | Photo: EPA/Brais Lorenzo
Migrants who crossed to Spanish enclave Ceuta by swimming across the border | Photo: EPA/Brais Lorenzo

Human smugglers often subject migrants to extreme violence, torture, rape and kidnapping. Authorities take little action to persecute these crimes, according to a new report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Migrants who use smuggling networks to flee their home countries are often abused while in transit or captivity, but little action is taken by national authorities against these crimes, said the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in a report published on Monday. The UN office said that in some cases, officials are even complicit in these crimes.

The report focuses on transit routes in West and North Africa, across the Mediterranean Sea and in Central America. According to the UNODC, the Darian Gap in Central America, the Sahara Desert in West/North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea were identified as particularly dangerous transit points.

Male migrants forced to work, women suffer sexual violence

"Our research showed that violence is used by the smugglers or other perpetrators as a form of punishment, intimidation or coercion, and often inflicted with no apparent reason," said Morgane Nicot, who coordinated the report.

"We found that male migrants are primarily subjected to forced labor and physical violence while women are more exposed to sexual violence, leading to unwanted pregnancies and abortions. All genders can suffer from inhuman and degrading treatment," she said.

The report said the use of violence is widespread on certain smuggling routes, but there is little evidence that such crimes lead to investigations or legal proceedings, especially in the transit countries where the offences are committed.

Officials complicit in migrant abuse

In addition, some migrants are reluctant to report abuse because they fear being treated as criminals, either due to their irregular status or for having committed acts that are punishable in some countries, such as having an abortion, having sex outside of marriage, or having sex with members of the same sex.

According to Nicot, often migrants "also don’t come forward because a significant portion of the abuses stem from public officials who may also be involved in the actual migrant smuggling operation." She said that "these officials include border guards, police officers and staff who work in detention centers."

The authors of the study made several recommendations to member states on how to better combat violence and abuse through human smugglers. Among them are that authorities should take into account aggravations (such as violence) in their prosecution of human smuggling networks. They also recommended that law enforcement should collaborate more internationally, including sharing best practices on how to hold smugglers who abuse migrants accountable.

You can find the study here.


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