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Managing Human Mobility: A Global Failure

July 21, 2019


A few days ago, I received a press release via email from the Washington DC-based Migration Policy Institute and the Colegio de México titled “Experts Outline Solutions for the U.S. and Mexico to Resolve the Border Migration Crisis”.
The main takeaway from the press release was the following observation: “Moving towards long-term solutions will require deploying a different set of tools — changing asylum procedures, investing in migration agencies, tackling smuggling networks, creating legal pathways and targeting development aid more smartly — instead of continuing the current short-term measures.”
As I read the press release, I was reminded that what is old is new and what is new is now old. And, more importantly, how seemingly little progress has been made in the last 25 years regarding the expectations of most stakeholders involved in managing human mobility. The upshot it suggests is that the expectations of the migrant/refugee community - documented or otherwise, as well as the expectations of host communities around the world, have not been and are not being met. If they were, there would be no "migrant crisis" in the Americas or Europe.
Some years ago, I wrote a paper called “The Migrant Mafia” whilst serving as a regional migration liaison officer at the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. It was peer reviewed by select colleagues in Department of External Affairs and was published in January 1996. It became the basis for an episode by the prestigious BBC TV program “Panorama”, called "The Migrant Mafia", which aired July 14, 1997.
This is an excerpt from the forward of the Migrant Mafia:
“The business of trafficking in human beings earns more than seven billion dollars annually worldwide in untaxed profits. In Europe alone, this figure is estimated to be in excess of one and one-half billion dollars. Organized criminality has made an industry out of targeting the displeased, the disadvantaged and the dispossessed of the developing world. It has developed the capability to recruit, assemble, transport and deliver human beings to Western Europe and North America with almost total impunity while thumbing its nose at the international law enforcement community.
Trafficking in human beings is as abhorrent a social phenomenon as was the slave trade of the 18th century. Many of their clients become victims of modern-day slavery. They find themselves delivered to the sweatshops in America. Others are forced to become drugs smugglers in servitude for services rendered. Some syndicates market babies through bogus adoption rackets. They are linked to the gender specific exploitation of women.
Respected international organizations tasked with the responsibility for protecting refugees, promoting legal emigration and the transport of migrants, have unwittingly aided and abetted the traffickers through timid support of anti-trafficking legislation.”
So what has changed in the past two and a half decades?
I took a look via Google and asked the AI guru "What is the business of human trafficking earning smugglers and cartels?”. The answer was surprising.
“Migrant smuggling is a business that could be worth as much as USD 10 billion or more per year, given that routes from West, East and North Africa to Europe, and South America to North America generate approximately USD 6.75 billion a year (Laczko, F. in Ferrier and Kaminsky, 2017).”
So that totals 16.75 billion US dollars in 2017.
Interesting. If one looks at the 1996 global earnings of organized crime, which was estimated at 7 billion US dollars worldwide and compares to the most recent figure, then it is very clear that their annual earnings have more than doubled!
Even if we consider inflation, the 1995 sum today would amount to 11.7 billion US dollars.
It is easy to conclude that trafficking and smuggling of human beings is more lucrative today than it was 24 years ago.
I will let readers draw their own conclusions as to why that it is and invite them to share these with me.
In the interest of shedding light on what I consider the magnificent failures of the international community to deal effectively with this scourge on humanity, this is the first of a series of notes I will be publishing here in the run up to the 8th BORDERPOL Global Forum, to be held in February 2020 in Gujarat, India.