BANGKOK – Migrant smuggling networks continue to thrive in the Asia-Pacific region where criminal networks are one step ahead of law enforcement, said a report by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released on Thursday in the Thai capital.
The report analyzes smuggling patterns and flows across the region and says “while the crime has shifted and changed appearance, it remains as potent as ever thanks to ongoing demand and the flexibility of criminal networks.”
“At a time when migration is at unprecedented levels and we see mass cross-border movements, including here in the region, migrant smuggling represents a serious threat to national and human security,” said UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, in a statement.
“It is leaving exceptional numbers of people vulnerable to different forms of abuse, including human trafficking,” he added.
The report highlighted how these networks constantly adopt new ways to escape law enforcement agencies and attract migrants, including new business methods such as payment on arrival at their destination.
These networks annually draw tens of thousands of people who pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to cross a border or be taken to a developed country.
The UNODC report says, to cross a border in the region of Mekong – river that connects Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – could cost at least $100, whereas a journey to the United States or Canada, can cost up to $50,000.
“Migrant smuggling remains a high-profit, low-risk crime,” said Benjamin Smith, UNODC Regional Coordinator for Migrant Smuggling and Human Trafficking in the statement.
“Authorities need to change (...) this means combining law enforcement and criminal justice action to dismantle smuggling networks with measures that promote legal migration,” he added.
According to the International Organization for Migration, 2.5 million Asian workers migrate every year to work on contract basis in other countries, especially in the Persian Gulf but also in Asia, Europe and North America.
Of those who illegally cross borders, 80 percent do it with the help of smugglers, a business that moves $2 billion, according to UNODC.