United Nations

Global agreement on migration can deliver a blow to traffickers of human misery and suffering

Yury Fedotov says an international effort is necessary to enshrine expectations on the treatment of migrants and refugees, as well as to break down criminal organisations who trade in people

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 11:44am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 11:44am

“When I refused to sell my body, they sold me to another brothel.” This is the heart-rending testimony of a 13-year-old Nepalese girl named Skye, trafficked by relatives to India. Skye’s story ends better than most.

Together with her sister, Skye escaped from the brothel, returned to school and now works for the Nepalese organisation that rescued her: the globally renowned Shakti Samuha. But, for every survivor like Skye, thousands suffer in silence, gagged by the threat of violence and blackmail.

People labour in farms and factories, are coerced into the sex trade and tricked onto fishing boats. The range of coerced activities is as vast as the huge number of places where victims are found.

Today, we all need to be vigilant for signs of the modern-day slave trade: sexually exploited and brutalised women and girls; frightened children begging on street corners; and clusters of labourers squalidly living at their workplace. This is the harsh evidence of a crime that haunts all our societies.

How did it come to this in the early 21st century? Large numbers of victims are trapped in a hopeless circle of migrant smuggling and trafficking. The petrol fuelling these crimes is instability and insecurity.

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Conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and economic crises elsewhere, have produced a tide of desperate humanity sweeping through the Middle East, North Africa and across the lethal Mediterranean. These individuals fall in and out of the hands of traffickers and smugglers as they seek sanctuary. Thousands are dying.

Last year, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants delivered a compelling statement from the United Nations that refugees and migrants need protection and assistance. Nations agreed to return to New York in 2018 to adopt a global compact on migration. This will be the first agreement negotiated by governments to cover every aspect of international migration.

Migration is an issue for our times, and there is a real need to go after causes such as conflict, but we can all agree that refugees and migrants should not be treated like criminals. This is why the compact can take the lead, and nations can assist by adopting and implementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, and its relevant protocols on trafficking in people and migrant smuggling.

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We have the tools to disrupt organised crime networks through intelligence sharing, joint operations, financial investigations and coordination across local and regional borders. But it takes resources and an unyielding commitment.

Criminals are exploiting gaps in our international system that leave people defenceless and vulnerable to violence and enslavement. Our response must be founded on the rule of law, and we need to work together, share responsibility and acknowledge that we can and must do more to stop human suffering.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime promotes a trust fund for trafficking victims that has helped thousands become survivors around the world. Our unique Blue Heart Campaign supports the fund, and is a powerful advocacy tool to shout out the message that we all have to act if the criminals are to be defeated. Such efforts are vital.

If adopted in 2018, the global compact has tremendous potential to enhance safe, orderly and regular migration and deal a concerted blow against the smugglers and traffickers. This is a generational opportunity to help every human being live in dignity. Let’s dare to seize the moment.

Yury Fedotov is executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime