The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its Global Study on Smuggling of Migrants says that the global people smuggling industry is worth between $5.5 and $7 billion a year.
A report released on Wednesday found that people smugglers made billions of dollars from some 2.5 million migrants in 2016, an amount it noted, equal to the US and EU humanitarian aid that year.
The figures are the latest available covering 30 major migrant routes in Africa, Europe, North America and Asia but they quite likely understated the extent of the problem, according to the report.
The real tragedy remains the plight of human beings fleeing war and poverty so desperate that they put their trust in smuggling gangs who have little regard for their safety, with thousands of migrants dying each year.
“This transnational crime preys on the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.
“It’s a global crime that requires global action, including improved regional and international cooperation and national criminal justice responses,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of Policy Analysis and Public Affairs in a statement.
The report noted that in Southeast Asia, women represented most of the people smuggled. It found that in 2009 alone, 550,000 people were smuggled in the Mekong sub-region at a value of $192 million for smugglers.
The UNODC reported that closing land or sea borders has simply seen people smugglers altering their routes. “Stricter border control measures often increase the risks for migrants and provide more opportunities to profit for smugglers,” it said.
The agency emphasised that law enforcement needs to crackdown on corruption, which aids people smuggling routes worldwide.