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UNHCR backs new Irish campaign against people smuggling

News Stories, 24 October 2008

© UNHCR/S.O'Brien
A UNHCR staff member pins up a "blue blindfold" poster on a noticeboard in the agency's Dublin office.

DUBLIN, Ireland, October 24 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has given its support to a campaign launched earlier this week by the Irish police and justice ministry to raise awareness about the trafficking of human beings. "Don't close your eyes to human trafficking," Irish Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said on Tuesday in Dublin, echoing the theme of the campaign.

Posters of men and women in everyday situations wearing blue blindfolds are going up in the streets of Dublin and other urban centres to remind people that they should be vigilant and aware that the crime may exist in their communities. A hotline has been set up for people to report their suspicions in secret.

Although the extent of people trafficking to Ireland is not known, police believe that people are being brought into Ireland for sexual and labour exploitation. The UN refugee agency fears that small numbers of uprooted people in need of its protection especially women and children could be among the victims.

"Refugees are one example of a vulnerable group that traffickers can pick on. People trying to escape from war or persecution, often in desperate situations, take risks to leave their country. This puts them in a vulnerable position that can be exploited," said Manuel Jordão, UNHCR's representative in Ireland, who described human trafficking as "a poison in our society."

His thoughts were echoed by Ahern. "Trafficking in human beings is a form of modern slavery which has no place in our, or indeed in any, society," the Irish minister said, adding that "Ireland is committed, with our international partners, to taking a strong approach to combatting trafficking in human beings."

The Irish campaign follows a similar initiative launched last year in the United Kingdom. The two countries, together with Poland, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, are members of a human trafficking initiative designed to ensure that the European Union becomes a more hostile environment for criminals engaged in people trafficking. All are running awareness campaigns this year.

UNHCR's Jordão said he believed asylum systems in Europe should be aware of how to identify and assist refugees who have been trafficked.

The Irish authorities have established an anti-trafficking unit which is working with non-governmental and statutory organizations to develop a planned response to trafficking issues in Ireland. UNHCR is working with the committee to promote ways of helping trafficking victims who might need legal advice or counselling about asylum applications.

By Steven O'Brien in Dublin, Ireland




UNHCR country pages

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

An alarming number of people are dying trying to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Over a three-week period in late 2005, at least 150 people perished while making the journey. These deaths are frequently the result of overcrowded boats capsizing or breaking down and going adrift without food or water. Those who survive the voyage to Yemen often give brutal accounts of smugglers beating passengers or forcing them overboard while still far off shore – in some instances with their hands and feet bound.

In response, UNHCR has issued an urgent appeal for action to stem the flow of desperate Ethiopian and Somali refugees and migrants falling prey to ruthless smugglers in a bid to reach Yemen and beyond. The refugee agency has also been working with the authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia, on ways to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. This includes production of videos and radio programmes to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians of the risks involved in such crossings.

Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed

Life in the Shadows: People Smuggling at the European Union's Edge

So far this year, nearly 200,000 people have entered the European Union (EU) through irregular routes - many undertaking life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean. At the fringes of the EU recently, on either side of the border between Hungary and Serbia, several Afghans and Syrians explained to UNHCR why they turned to smugglers to flee war and persecution to try to find safety in Europe. Some were staying in an abandoned brick factory in Serbia, waiting for smugglers to get them into Hungary and on to other points inside the EU. Others had been caught making just such a journey and were temporarily being held in police cells in south-eastern Hungary. The following images were taken by UNHCR's Kitty McKinsey.

Life in the Shadows: People Smuggling at the European Union's Edge

The World's Stateless: A photo essay by Greg Constantine

Nationality might seem like a universal birthright, but it is estimated that up to 12 million people around the world are struggling to get along without it. They do not possess a nationality nor enjoy its legal benefits. They fall into a legal limbo; they are stateless. This often leaves them unable to do the basic things most people take for granted such as registering the birth of a child, travelling, going to school, opening a bank account or owning property.

Statelessness has a variety of causes. Some populations were excluded from citizenship at the time of independence from colonial rule. Others fall victim to mass denationalization. In some countries, women cannot confer nationality on their children. Sometimes, because of discrimination, legislation fails to guarantee citizenship for certain ethnic groups.

The problem is global. Under its statelessness mandate, UNHCR is advising stateless people on their rights and assisting them in acquiring citizenship. At the government level, it is supporting legal reform to prevent people from becoming stateless. With partners it undertakes citizenship campaigns to help stateless people to acquire nationality and documentation.

Photographer Greg Constantine is an award-winning photojournalist from the United States. In 2005, he moved to Asia and began work on his project, "Nowhere People," which documents the plight of stateless people around the world. His work has received a number of awards, including from Pictures of the Year International, NPPA Best of Photojournalism, the Amnesty International Human Rights Press Awards (Hong Kong), the Society of Publishers in Asia, and the Harry Chapin Media Award for Photojournalism. Greg was a co-winner of the Osborn Elliot Prize for Journalism in Asia, presented annually by the Asia Society. Work from "Nowhere People" has been widely published and exhibited in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Switzerland, Ukraine, Hong Kong and Kenya. He is based in Southeast Asia.

The World's Stateless: A photo essay by Greg Constantine

Somalia: People SmugglingPlay video

Somalia: People Smuggling

Despite the risks desperate people are willing to pay smugglers to help them escape violence or poverty.
Desperation in the MeditteraneanPlay video

Desperation in the Meditteranean

As the Mediterranean tourist season draws to a close, another deadly season of maritime people smuggling also ends. This season as in year's past, thousands of people have risked their lives to reach Europe by sea from North Africa. Many are simply trying to escape poverty, but others are fleeing conflict or persecution.