The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has welcomed a new protocol against the smuggling of migrants, set to come into force this week.
"This protocol will help raise awareness of the issue of smuggling, and undoubtedly help in bringing in greater external assistance to the countries that need it most," Charles Harns, head of IOM's technical cooperation service, told IRIN from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on Monday.
"Not only will the protocol generate more donors, it gives a very clear international framework for people to follow in order to make progress," he said.
Although a global phenomenon, when speaking of former Soviet republics of Central Asia, he noted these countries lacked adequate national resources to build up migration systems and required external help to do so, including the revision of laws, training of staff, improvement in border controls, providing information, and issuing of travel documents.
"Despite the good will and commitment of some of these countries, they simply don't have the resources to do this," Harns stressed, adding, in terms of smuggling in Central Asia, all the elements were there, including porous borders, unemployment, underfunded administrations, and big money to be made by the smuggling networks.
His comments came just two days before the formal implementation of the Palermo Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, just one month after its complementing protocol on Trafficking in Persons.
According to an IOM statement to be released on Wednesday, IOM views this week's Protocol as a significant and positive step towards the protection of the rights of migrants and the reduction of the power and influence of organized criminal groups that abuse them.
"The protocol should not be misunderstood. It doesn't criminalize irregular migration. In fact, it goes to explicit extremes not to, criminalizing the act of smuggling instead," Harns said.
Indeed, in the preamble or preliminary statement of the protocol, there is reference more than once to try to protect the dignity and rights of migrants, and also to recognize that there are social and economic factors that drive migrants to smugglers.
Additionally, there is also plenty of reference to preventive measures in the document that is information campaigns and other measures that will try to keep migrants out of the hands of smugglers.
"Even though migrants are smuggled willingly, paying for the service, they are often subject to a great deal of abuse and may even die in the process of being smuggled," the IOM official said.
But the implications of this protocol go far beyond Central Asia, where up to 600,000 people from Tajikistan alone travel abroad, mainly illegally, to work as labor migrants every year. As a global phenomenon, impacting millions of people worldwide, the anti-smuggling protocol lays out what governments can do themselves and bilaterally to help reduce it.
Smuggling is a crime in the migration sector, the IOM official explained, noting that the basis of the protocol was the criminalization of smuggling, but to do this governments needed to develop their abilities to investigate these crimes. "In the end, this is an issue of capacity building, particularly for countries as transit points, and who don't have tremendous national resources, he concluded.
IRIN, January 26, 2004