Regional Office Italy
International Organization for Migration IOM


Rome, 13 November 2003

Lecture in the International Seminar for Experts "European Migration and Refugee Policy: New Developments", organised by the Cicero Foundation in the series Great Debates, Rome, 13-14 November 2003.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In my intervention today, I intend to describe why this issue commands growing attention and some concrete contributions to combating this criminal abuse of human rights. Indeed, this particularly abusive form of exploitation, in particular of women, seems to be growing. It has also become a multi-million dollar business often linked to organized criminal networks.

A map drawn on the basis of observation and research would illustrate that, for a whole range of reasons, migrant smuggling and trafficking touch practically every country in the world today - whether as a source country, a destination or a transit zone - or increasingly, as all three at the same time.

But migrant smuggling and trafficking are not new phenomena. Why, then, do they appear to have exploded so dramatically in terms of numbers, global reach and visibility? Well, is it really so surprising that global revolutions in information, transport, trade and investment would affect people's perceptions of their own personal situation; their knowledge of the greater world around them; and their attitudes toward migration?.

Globalization has brought more and more countries, and previously remote zones of countries, into contact with the wider world. Whether drawn by what they see abroad or pushed by what they don't see at home, the pool of people who today would consider migrating - and who can realistically make their wish to migrate come true - has clearly increased. When these basic ingredients are mixed with one part rising expectations of a better standard of living, two parts unemployment or underemployment at home, and one part the promise of a job abroad, they make the ingredients for a powerful cocktail.

Half of All International Migrants are Women

Even though migration has always involved individuals of both sexes, today we see that women account for nearly half of all international migrants. This has been attributed to various elements: these include family reunification, growing world-wide demand in female-dominated jobs within the service sector, the pursuance of family survival strategies in deteriorating economic conditions, and generally an increasing independence of women in many countries.

Contrary to the popular view that women are mere potential followers of men in migration, there is growing evidence that women in fact play a key role in this process. Through migration, women often have the possibility to take remunerated employment and thereby improve not only their personal welfare but also the welfare of their families through remittances.

More and more, we see women migrating autonomously in search of temporary labour or acting as pioneers in the establishment of migration chains to be later completed by other family members. Yet their job opportunities and success is limited by the kinds of work available to them.

As a result of the traditional sex-segregation by occupation practised by many countries of origin and destination, female migrants tend to be concentrated in a few female-dominated occupations, such as domestic services, entertainment, and nursing. For the majority of migrant women, employment in the country of destination is their first remunerated work. As both women and foreigners, they risk finding themselves at the bottom of occupational hierarchies where labour standards are lacking and working conditions are poor. Migrant women also tend to be pushed towards marginal types of employment such as part-time, low-wage or under-employment. Migrant women generally earn less than native-born and migrant men and less than native-born women.

Trafficking in women involves both gender and basic human rights abuses, and entails numerous risks. These include unsafe travel, violence (especially sexual violence), exploitation, forcing into criminal activity and deprivation of access to social services. Trafficking in women is often associated with forced prostitution, where women have fallen prey to promises of well-paid jobs. Trafficking is, however, not limited to sexual exploitation of women. They are also trafficked for marriage, domestic labour, bonded sweatshops and other types of forced labour or enslavement.

Trafficking is characterized by the coercion and physical and psychological violence exercised by traffickers on their victims. Its root causes are the same as for trafficking in human beings in general.

The term is increasingly accepted to define a phenomenon involving abusive, coercive trade and exploitation - in slavery-like conditions - of individuals who are not necessarily international migrants. "Smuggling", on the other hand, is focused on the illicit transport of migrants across international borders. And while the smuggled may suffer mistreatment, too - a fact we should not forget - they voluntarily turn to smugglers, and are not recruited or coerced.

Trafficking and smuggling arise out of economic, social and demographic conditions that encourage desperate or ambitious people to migrate in spite of the rules and provide the traffickers and smugglers with their illicit business opportunities.

Clearly, a major factor is the growing gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" - within countries, where the "have nots" see little opportunity to advance and attain their goals for themselves and their families; and between countries, as development proceeds unevenly and opportunity seems to beckon just next door or down the road. But what provides the most powerful enticement to turn to smugglers is the mismatch between legal migration slots and the actual demand for them. Tantalizing opportunities are on display, and the price for grabbing them may not seem so high when put in a context of likely future earnings and human nature's tendency to rationalize away the likelihood of suffocating in a cargo container, dying of thirst in the desert, or drowning in the Mediterranean sea. Those things only happen to others, of course.

But economic opportunity is not the only factor. Armed conflict and instability, a stifling political or social climate, an environment so despoiled that it can no longer support the livelihood of its inhabitants: all of these also figure in the mix.

The Growing Need for Workers

Networks in receiving countries play a role as well. Moreover - particularly in the case of women migrants - the breakdown of societal norms which previously militated against work outside the home (never mind outside the country), as well as the low social status and exclusion from job markets which minorities or other vulnerable groups suffer in many deteriorating economies, further encourage migration.

Anchor communities in countries of destination -- and the increasing ease of communication with them -- provide bridges and roadmaps for the illegal networks as well as for their clients and victims.

Perhaps the most powerful force driving all forms of irregular migration is the mismatch between legal opportunities for migration and the growing need for workers and specialists in the developed economies. Declining birth rates and longer life expectancy create employment needs in the industrialised world that cannot be met without the help of newcomers.

Despite the existing demand for certain categories of foreign labour in many destination countries, especially within the service sector, numerous States have imposed stricter border controls and restrictions on entry. A major result of this situation has been the increase in irregular migration, and the growth of a parallel market for services, where traffickers in search of considerable and lucrative profits offer potential migrants various services such as fraudulent travel documents, transportation, accommodation and job brokering.

With few exceptions, legal migration opportunities have been shrinking in much of the world. Shrinking even though demand for foreign labour in some sectors of receiving country economies either has remained unchanged or has even grown as a result of an ageing and changing national labour force. Irregular migration often fills such gaps, but at a cost to society in terms of creating both an undocumented underclass and the perception of government having lost control over its borders. One result is that public pressure to crack down on irregular migration mounts. But if "control" is the only policy lever that is pulled, the imbalances that feed the irregular migration flows in the first place will still remain. Nothing will have been done about the other ingredients of the migration cocktail - whose complete list of ingredients I shall come to later - except to increase the cost of some of them.

Traffickers and smugglers are in fact exploiting a demand. In business terms, trafficking and smuggling are relatively low-risk, high-gain enterprises. It is therefore no surprise that transnational criminal networks have moved into the field.

Criminal Networks

Since borders have been set up there have always been smugglers and traffickers. What is vastly different now is the degree of sophistication required to succeed. Ironically enough, this is at least partially the result of Governments' very success in addressing earlier shortcomings or loopholes in their migration systems. Whatever the cause, though, as what is required for smugglers to succeed becomes more complicated and costly - convoluted travel arrangements, falsified documents, safe houses, etc. - the old "mom and pop" outfits increasingly are squeezed out of the market. This is where organized criminal networks move in, experienced and well equipped as many are to transport drugs and other contraband - even if one should avoid an automatic correlation between the two. It's no great leap to "diversify" into a new "commodity" - people - as appears to have happened in the Balkans.

Tougher legislation to criminalize migrant smuggling and human trafficking and to harmonize penalties internationally is slowly coming along. Full implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocols should lead to achieving this goal.

The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children will come into force on 26 December 2003. The Protocol now has 117 signatures and 42 ratifications. Once in force all states that have ratified it have to ensure that their national policies and practice fully comply with the Protocol.
The United Nations protocol against the smuggling of migrants will enter into force on 28 January next year after Azerbaijan became the fortieth country to ratify the measure. The smuggling of migrants is defined as the procurement of the illegal entry of a person into a state of which they are not a citizen or resident, for financial or material benefit.

Both protocols supplement the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which came into force on 29 September 2003. The UN Secretary-General will convene a Conference of the Parties to the Convention, no later than September 2004 in order to monitor implementation of the Convention.

The protocols require participant countries to incorporate its provisions into domestic law, to seek out and prosecute offenders and to improve international cooperation on the issue.

The European Conference against Trafficking in Human Beings, organized in Brussels in September 2002 by IOM and the European Commission, issued the "Brussels Declaration". This compendium of good practices and lessons learned has been recognized by the Council of Ministers and an expert group has been set up to monitor its implementation within EU Member State policies on counter-trafficking.

The Council of Europe too has become active and has set up an expert committee to begin drafting over the next 12 months a European Convention on trafficking which would supplement the existing UN Protocol. The Convention will give prominence to victims' protection, with access to assistance not being solely dependent on denouncing traffickers - somewhat following the Italian example. It will also have an independent follow-up mechanism which will issue reports and be able to visit countries as part of its investigations - as the Council of Europe's committee against torture already does.

Smuggling of migrants is defined as the procurement of the illegal entry of a person into a state of which they are not a citizen or resident, for financial or material benefit. The borders between smuggling and trafficking however are not always easy to define: it is not uncommon that a person having approached a trafficker to obtain smuggling services finds herself reduced to a slave-like situation.

Here in Italy investigations into trafficking in human beings for the purpose of exploitation are coordinated by the central office of the Criminal police, while smuggling of migrants falls under the immigration office.

Italy's Innovative Approach

Attention for the human rights of migrants in legislation and practice is also crucial.
Italy's particularly innovative approach to victims of trafficking is reflected in article 18 of the Alien Law. This article provides for issuing a special six-month residence permit that may be extended for a year or more, as required. This special permit allows the holder access to social and assistance services, study, as well as enrolment with the national employment agency, while it can also be converted into a regular two-year residence permit for study.

While special protective measures for victims of trafficking are used as a sort of reward (for collaboration with law enforcement agencies) in most European legal systems, article 18 expands protection to all victims regardless of whether they decide to collaborate with police authorities or not. In addition, the instrument is designed to ensure full rehabilitation of the victim since it is renewable. A long line of case law as established that this provision is extendable to all sorts of victims of serious exploitation and not limited to victims of sexual exploitation. Approximately 2000 residence permits have been issued based on article 18. Law 228 approved in August 2003 gives specific competence to National Anti-Mafia Directorate by considering trafficking as an activity equivalent to Mafia-style crimes. This results in punishment and the possibility to confiscate the assets of criminals in favour of a fund that benefits victims.

In the same law the Ministry for Equal Opportunity has been given the authority to indicate to indicate to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs areas of origin of victims in order to focus cooperation interventions on such zones.

Law enforcement efforts need also to be supported by other programmes that more directly address the root causes of migration and provide legal, managed solutions.

Replacing irregular with regular migration is the best way to undercut the appeal of the traffickers and smugglers. This not so much because all irregular migration will cease as a result of the opening up of legal channels but because it gives enforcement a strong argument that regular channels do exist to fill available job opportunities. Nevertheless, we have to assume that trafficking and smuggling will not disappear any time soon.

In response to all these factors, my organization favours a multi-facetted approach including research, prevention, attention to migrants' rights, capacity-building for governments, organized labour migration and assistance and protection for victims.

Understanding the patterns and dynamics of trafficking and smuggling is essential to addressing them effectively. We thus carry out research to inform policy-makers and practitioners, and to ensure the relevance of its programmes. In fact, irregular migration, including trafficking and smuggling, is a growing phenomenon. A recent study by IOM revealed that there are up to 30 million irregular migrants worldwide at any one time, of which more than 50% are estimated to have been smuggled or trafficked.

Let me however caution you: hard global data on this phenomenon are non-existent. There are "guesstimates" about global trafficking in women, about irregular migration, about smuggling in Europe - but no global statistics. Nevertheless, we live in a real world where there is enough information from a variety of sources to know that migrant trafficking is significant in size, and we can also paint a picture of what it looks like on a global scale.

The Role of the IOM

In the prevention field, IOM conducts nation-wide information campaigns to inform potential victims of the dangers of trafficking and irregular migration. Awareness raising activities also target schools, urban and rural community groups and families. The public information and educational element of our work is of growing importance. Last month, for instance, at the 11th Festival of Advertising in Opatija, the jury awarded the "GOLDEN BELL" for the best comprehensive campaign in 2003, to the IOM campaign "Trafficking in Humans".

In the capacity building field, IOM carries out training activities for government officials and NGOs in good practices to prevent and combat trafficking and smuggling, and assist the victims. IOM also provides technical assistance in the drafting of counter trafficking legislation.

In the area of law enforcement coordination, we help governments gather, evaluate and exchange information. We provide practical training to national and international law enforcers in how to detect and intercept traffickers and collect and analyze information.

In addition, we cooperate with governments in witness protection, where the interests of prosecution argue for the trafficked migrants to remain in the country of destination for a time in exchange for testimony.

To assist and protect the victims, IOM works with NGOs, international organizations and government agencies to provide legal and medical counselling and other welfare services. Together with partners such as NGOs and the OSCE we also provide safe shelters and accommodation for the victims while they await durable solutions, sometimes at considerable risk to the safety of our staff.

While preventive and punitive measures are working simultaneously to effect, over time, a reduction in the scale of trafficking, there remains the issue of dealing with the victims if integration in host societies is not feasible. There is another segment, which focuses essentially on facilitating return - but with nuances. Return and Reintegration assistance can range from a modest allowance to referral and counselling, skills training or micro-enterprise support after return.

In any case, the need for concerted international efforts against trafficking and smuggling will surely continue for years to come. Everybody is in this together. Successful prevention at one border along the way leaves a smuggled migrant population in front of that barrier. What previously was a transit country can thus quickly become a destination by default - and may even be a relatively attractive one, even if it wasn't the original destination. And even if the transit country remains just that - a transit country - it is suddenly confronted with a transient population that it is often ill prepared to deal with. Moreover, whether at the source, en route or at the final border crossing, organized crime has a considerable stake in delivering its "goods." It can and does use the significant resources at its disposal to undermine the integrity of borders, civil servants and communities, all along the migration chain.

For reasons such as these, multi-national operations like trafficking in migrants are unlikely to be countered successfully by a string of unilateral, disparate national measures.

Recognition of the benefits of multilateral dialogue and cooperation for collectively understanding and addressing migration has grown considerably since the International Conference on Population and Development was held in Cairo in 1994. Regional and sub-regional consultation processes have indeed blossomed since then in the Americas, Asia and Europe, and are starting to develop in Africa as well.

One of the most interesting characteristics of all these consultation processes is that they have developed into regular, constructive opportunities for a migration dialogue among countries of origin, transit and destination - that is to say, groups of countries with obviously differing perspectives on many migration issues. Migrant smuggling and trafficking are consistently among the major items on their agendas. And the similarities in the paths of their dialogue have been striking.

Beginning with identifying the desirability of strengthening and harmonizing national legislation, a consensus has developed on the need to share information - among police authorities of course, but also among migration officials and diplomats. A prime example is the Puebla Process, comprising all of Central and North America and parts of the Caribbean. This group has gone so far as to create a virtual secretariat to facilitate electronic communication amongst participants. Workshops and training sessions on specific topics- such as document fraud or respect for migrants rights - have also been concrete outcomes. And a stronger capacity to deal with smuggling nationally and regionally - including a network of personal contacts to facilitate cooperation across borders - has been a major product of the more advanced consultations.

Last year in Tunis, the ten States of the Western Mediterranean issued the "Tunis Declaration", a document that has led to the establishment of a dialogue process in this important region and that was continued last month in Rabat. Measures to counter trafficking and smuggling feature prominently in the declaration.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is no easy, simple policy response to trafficking - in women, in children, in human beings in general. The phenomenon brings together human aspirations for personal betterment, potential for great profit, clever professional criminals, legitimate concern for law and order and controllable borders, and humanitarian obligations. But I would like to close with two points I hope we can all agree on. First, that multi-dimensional and collective responses to trafficking provide the best opportunity for success, and second, that even when the trafficked may be misguided, they are human beings and deserve to be treated in a humane and dignified manner.

Thank you very much.