FIRST PERSON: Human trafficking, migrant smuggling, still significant threats in Asia |


Martin Reeve is a regional advisor for GLO.ACT, a joint EU-UNODC program that focuses on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. He spoke to UN News from his base in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

“As a regional adviser to UNODC, I work with police and other criminal justice officials to help them improve their responses to human trafficking and smuggling of migrants.

Here in Iraq, I have heard reliable accounts of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, especially of young women and girls, and of trafficking of migrant workers, especially women for domestic work.

Reports indicate that men and women from Asia and Africa, who migrate both legally and irregularly to Iraq, are subjected to forced labor as construction workers, security guards, cleaners, handymen and domestic workers.

Trafficking for organ removal appears to be a significant problem based on anecdotal evidence from law enforcement counterparts.

Trafficking is not contraband

Martin Reeve is Regional Advisor for Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants, based in Baghdad, Iraq. , by UNODC

We spend a lot of time pointing out to law enforcement officers in the region that human trafficking and migrant smuggling are actually very different, although they are very often confused, especially in the media.

Human trafficking is really about the exploitation of the individual. It’s about creating a human commodity and then using that person to generate profit, through their labor, sexual services, or other forms of exploitation.

I first worked on a human trafficking case earlier in my career when I was based in Vienna. There was a young woman who was sexually exploited in London.

I participated in the operation to save her. It was a moving experience and certainly allowed me to understand the real nature of this crime and the effect it has on people.

Migrant smuggling is about a relationship between a person who wants to migrate but cannot do so legally, and an individual or group that provides a criminal service.

The migrant chooses an irregular method and a service provider, who is the smuggler. Fees are paid for illegally crossing a border. The migrant, at least in theory, is then free to leave.

These are the main differences, but very often migrants who choose this method to move from one country to another are very vulnerable.

They have no legal status in the country of destination, they often do not speak the language, they often have very few sources of income or support in the country where they arrive, and human traffickers get away. take at them. Very often, migrants find themselves in debt to those who organized their migration.

Growing understanding of trafficking


Migrants take enormous personal risks when they put themselves in the hands of smugglers.

IOM / Amanda Nero

Migrants take enormous personal risks when they put themselves in the hands of smugglers.

Over the past 25 years, our understanding of the phenomenon of human trafficking has improved and we now recognize that trafficking is not just about sex, but includes other ways in which people can be exploited. in all kinds of sectors of the economy.

For example, in construction, agriculture or inside factories, in fact, wherever you will find a lot of low-skilled and low-paid manual workers.

One of the real challenges with forced labor, in particular, is identifying when exploitative working conditions tip the scales in what becomes a criminal human trafficking case.

There are few prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking cases and this is partly because it is a difficult crime to prove. But there are successes and it is not uncommon for someone involved in trafficking for sexual exploitation to find themselves prosecuted for crimes like rape because they are easier to prove, easier to understand. for juries and lack the complexities that a trafficking type lawsuit can have.

Rights-based and victim-centered approaches are fundamental in everything we do. I find it gratifying to see that we have made a difference and that our work is paying off. It does not happen every day. You have to be patient and very often this can be frustrating.

Focus on the smuggler, not the migrant


A psychologist speaks with a young woman at a UNICEF-supported shelter for trafficked children in the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan.  (2014 file)

© UNICEF / Pirozzi

A psychologist speaks with a young woman at a UNICEF-supported shelter for trafficked children in the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan. (2014 file)

With migrant smuggling, we shift the focus from the migrants themselves to the people who organize their illegal movement, and stress that we should not criminalize the migrants themselves.

Migrants, when displaced by smuggling networks, take enormous personal risk. As we know from horror stories in the Mediterranean and elsewhere in the world, many of them die on the way, in the backs of trucks or on boats that are not seaworthy.

Obviously, the smugglers don’t really care about this. They are interested in money, and it is a very lucrative industry.

We need to recognize that the pressures on migration are more likely to increase, not decrease in the years to come, so criminal networks will continue to seek profit by facilitating irregular migration.
Both smuggling of migrants and trafficking linked to irregular migration will remain significant threats to human security.


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