The Rising Tide of Human Smuggling

By Paul J. Smith. Paul J. Smith is an adjunct fellow with Pacific Forum/CSIS smuggling Geneva. | The Christian Science Monitor, November 3, 1994 | Go to article overview

The Rising Tide of Human Smuggling


Paul J. Smith. Paul J. Smith is an adjunct fellow with Pacific Forum/CSIS smuggling Geneva., The Christian Science Monitor


THE recent landslide victory of California's Proposition 187 has helped catapult illegal immigration to the top of the national political agenda. But only scant attention is being focused on this decade's most disturbing immigration trend - the explosion in international human smuggling.

Sophisticated criminal organizations earn billions of dollars every year by smuggling hundreds of thousands of migrants across national boundaries. They are making human smuggling one of the most profitable enterprises today, affecting nearly every region of the world:

* In the United States, a primary destination for many smuggling operations, federal officials have recently cracked a multimillion-dollar ring in Seattle accused of smuggling 970 Indian, Pakistani, and other foreign nationals into the US since 1985. Authorities in New York have reportedly discovered a similar ring using fake documents produced in Thailand to smuggle Albanians into the US. And despite President Clinton's crackdown last summer, criminal syndicates continue to sneak tens of thousands of Chinese into the US, via Eastern Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean Basin.

* European officials are also alarmed by increased human smuggling in their region. Officials in Austria have recently discovered that their country is the major destination for smuggling networks originating in Asia and running through Russia and Eastern Europe. Last month, Spanish police discovered that syndicates were using the passports of the deceased to smuggle Chinese into their country. Meanwhile, Swedish authorities are trying to crack down on a Baltic Sea smuggling route that reportedly delivers Iranian and Iraqi immigrants through Moscow to Latvia, Estonia, or Lithuania before finally reaching Sweden.

* In East Asia, Japan has been the favored target for smuggling syndicates. The Maritime Safety Agency has called for international action to counter the growing threat of human smuggling operations directed at Japan, allegedly masterminded by Chinese and Japanese criminal groups. In June, the Tokyo Immigration Bureau exposed an operation that had been smuggling Chinese first to Thailand and then Japan.

Widespread corruption among government officials, the revolution in both communications and transportation, and the worldwide growth of organized crime are all believed to be contributing to the rise of human smuggling. But no factor is perhaps more critical to this trade than the global surge in emigration.

Population growth, unemployment, and poverty in the developing world are spurring millions to seek a better life outside of their home country. The International Organization of Migration estimates there are roughly 125 million international migrants. And with global population expanding by about 90 million a year, that number is expected to soar. Simultaneously, however, antiimmigrant sentiment is rising worldwide. From Paris to Tokyo, Pretoria to Kuala Lumpur, governments around the world are clamping down on immigrants, legal and illegal. These moves, ironically, play into the hands of smugglers. …

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