UNODC Highlights Trafficking, Migrant Smuggling

Published: 17 April 2013


Human trafficking and migrant worker exploitation are serious concerns in Asia, and represent hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit revenue, according to a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The report divided the trafficking into four distinct categories: smuggling within the region, for sexual exploitation, to the US and EU, and to Australia and Canada.

The UNODC report states that Myanmar represents the largest source of undocumented workers, and the most sought after destination is Thailand. The report agrees that many undocumented immigrants find higher wages than at home, but notes that some voluntary migrants unwittingly fall into an exploitative situation.

High levels of regional sex tourism drive demand for trafficking of women and girls, the second major concern the report focused on. The industry is most prevalent in Thailand, with as many as 250,000 sex workers in the country, the report stated. Traffickers use debt bondage as one method of control over their victims, the report said, but noted that some sex workers stay in the illicit trade by choice.

The report also touched on illegal immigration, through Chinese and Vietnamese smuggling networks, to Western Europe and the United States. Would-be undocumented migrants from China pay around $50,000 for a smuggler’s aid; based on the estimated number of illegally employed Chinese that enter the US yearly, that would mean a $600 million dollar market. The cost to enter the EU is somewhat lower, estimated at around $17,000.

More complicated are undocumented migrations from West and South Asia to Australia and Canada. A large percentage of these migrants will claim asylum when they reach their goal. Both Australia and Canada have large diaspora populations, a driving force behind their popularity, the report notes. Asylum seekers trying to reach Australia from South Asia travel to a transit country -- Indonesia is the most popular -- and load boats for the trip to Australia, the report said. The route is hazardous, and ships have sunk before the refugees reached Australia. Canada is most popular among Sri Lankan migrants, with air travel most frequently used.

The report suggests that legal migration be expanded to counter demand for illicit services. It stated that labor rights of all migrants should be respected, regardless of visa status, and the punishment for mistreatment of those illegally employing workers should be strengthened.