The smuggling of migrants, as defined in Article 3(a) of the Smuggling of Migrants Protocol, involves the facilitation of a person’s illegal entry into a State, for a financial or other material benefit. Although it is a crime against a State, smugglers can also violate the human rights of those they smuggle, ranging from physical abuse to withholding food and water.
Given increasing obstacles to access safety, however, refugees, asylum-seekers and other persons in need of international protection are often compelled to use smugglers as their only means to flee persecution, conflict and violence.
In view of this dilemma, UNHCR has a particular role to play in supporting governments reconcile measures to address the smuggling of refugees with ensuring that the international protection needs of those on the move are met. For example, UNHCR is directly concerned with ensuring that national laws on smuggling do not criminalize smuggled persons nor persons who support refugees cross State borders for humanitarian reasons.
UNHCR also supports the development of international best practice – and regularly advocates for more safe, regular and legal pathways to migration and admission. For instance, UNHCR provided extensive comments in the development of the UNODC Model Law against the Smuggling of Migrants and UNODC Toolkit to Combat the Smuggling of Migrants.