Migrant smuggling in SE Asia a $2bn industry, UN says
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Migrant smuggling in SE Asia a $2bn industry, UN says

Migrant smuggling has become a US$2-billion industry for criminal gangs that are using Southeast Asia as both a source and destination for illegal labour, a United Nations report released Tuesday concludes.

The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) analysed the smuggling of migrants in 28 countries from the Middle East to the Pacific and found that criminal networks are exploiting gaps between the demand for workers and the supply of legal migrants to extort fees of up to $50,000 to get a person into his desired country.

But the Migrant Smuggling in Asia: Current Trends and Related Challenges report stresses that while a large number of migrants turn to smugglers to help them seek a better life in a new country, many end up in human-trafficking networks. As illegals, they are left unable to basic rights and become vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and exploitation, the UNODC said.

"The cross-border movement of people in Asia is expected to grow rapidly and at unprecedented levels, in part due to new infrastructure projects and the opening of borders," said Jeremy Douglas, regional representative for the UNODC in Southeast Asia.

The Asean region serves as an important source, destination and transit region for migrant smuggling, the agency said. Most smuggling occurs within the region, routes also are reaching as far as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Migrant smugglers, the UNODC said, have proved very flexible, quickly redirecting routes in the face of tighter border controls.

"In addition, the production and use of fraudulent documents are widespread," said Mr Douglas. "People that make use of smugglers face increased risks to their health and safety."

In a statement, the UNODC called on Asean countries to comprehensively address migrant smuggling in line with the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime.

The agency recommends strengthening data collection and analysis, improving laws and policies, protecting the rights of migrants, and bolstering operations at border crossings.

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