Hope for Justice was delighted to participate in the eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (11th COP UNTOC) this week in Vienna. The Conference exists to help nations who support this convention to better combat transnational organised crime including the trafficking of persons, of firearms, and illegal smuggling. At the session, Phillipa Roberts, Head of Policy and Research at Hope for Justice, gave an address to delegates and dignitaries on the Protocol Against People Smuggling.
Phillipa emphasised the need for prioritising effective frameworks for safe, legal migration so as to reduce irregular migration. Without safe and legal routes for migration and for those seeking asylum many are forced into the hands of people smugglers.
Currently, people who are smuggled into a country, including those seeking asylum, are often treated as illegal migrants and criminalised. But, in reality, people who entrust themselves to smugglers are victims of serious crimes and often have their human rights disregarded and abused. Many are subject to physical and sexual violence, kept in degrading conditions without proper access to food, water and sanitation, and subject to dangerous transport methods.
As a result, many people who are smuggled across borders also meet the definition of a human trafficking victim. Even where this is not the case, their circumstances make them vulnerable to further exploitation by human traffickers.
If found by immigration forces, people who have been smuggled into a country are at further risk of inhumane treatment in detention facilities or by being put through the criminal justice system themselves.
Therefore, Phillipa emphasised, states should prioritise resources to prevent the activities of people-smugglers and human traffickers, and investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes, rather than migrants who are victims of them and in need of protection rather than criminalisation. By establishing safe, legal routes for migration, states can effectively disrupt and disincentivise this criminal activity in the first place.
Phillipa address also touched on the need for state and non-state actors to work innovatively and collaboratively together on a national and international level. As a not-for-profit organisation, Hope for Justice has frontline teams working in five continents, and are often able to identify changing trends in how organised criminals work before statutory bodies.
We are also able to work transnationally as we did in the case of Eryk* a victim of human trafficking who was trafficked from the UK to the state of Georgia in the US. When our UK team received a referral from one of his friends, they were able to work with our investigators in the US, the County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security to find Eryk, bring him back to the UK, and launch an investigation into his traffickers.
Phillipa said it had been a privilege to have observer status and take part in the 11th COP UNTOC and that she was pleased that the role of NGOs in fighting transnational organised crime is being recognised. “It’s important for us as NGOs to have the opportunity to listen to member states so we can better understand how we can support and partner with government bodies, other NGOs and survivors to combat organised crime,” she said. “Underpinning UNTOC and its Protocols is a human rights-based approach and without upholding the rule of law and respecting human rights we cannot defeat organised crime. While Hope for Justice’s work is focused on human trafficking and wider forms of slavery, we appreciate that there are overlaps with other forms of organised crime such as people smuggling, drug trafficking and cybercrime. So, the 11th COP UNTOC has provided us with an opportunity to learn more about these intersectional issues, ensuring that we do not ignore this crossover in our programmes and policy work.”