On 5 February, the ‘Zero Draft‘ of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration* was released by co-facilitators Mexico and Switzerland. The draft, which reflects the views of member states, UN agencies, civil society and academia expressed during extensive consultations in 2017, sets out 22 core objectives with a view to meeting a single aim – making migration work for all. The content of the draft now forms the basis for nine months of formal intergovernmental negotiations. The hope? That by December 2018, states formally adopt the Global Compact.

The reactions to the Zero Draft have been mixed. One can detect the usual lethargy and cynicism that accompany cumbersome international processes that result in non-binding, non-normative frameworks. Others have criticized the draft for essentially repackaging existing ideas and presenting current tools as being capable of combating problems that arguably would be alleviated if these tools were fit for purpose, or if the necessary resources and political will had been dedicated to their proper implementation.

But, while there is certainly an element of truth to these criticisms, the overall tone of the document, which is ambitious and defiant, merits some praise. After the withdrawal of the US from the process and resounding EU sentiments that the UN is biased towards a positive view of migration there was the risk that the document would be overly conservative. Instead, many of the core objectives, and the language in which they are couched, contain politically unpalatable yet pertinent points raised by experts, and humanitarian and development practitioners.

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime was one of the expert organizations called upon during the six 2017 informal thematic sessions to gather substantive input and concrete recommendations. The GI was a panelist during session five (‘Smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons and contemporary forms of slavery’). Aligning with recommendations made by the GI, the Zero Draft now includes as one of its core commitments Objective 9: To strengthen the transnational response to smuggling of migrants.

Objective 9: Strengthen the transnational response to smuggling of migrants

Objective 9 has three goals: preventing smuggling, ensuring smuggled migrants are not criminalized and ending impunity for smuggling networks. The methods suggested to achieve these goals range from the traditional – compelling states to ratify UNTOC – to the more innovative – i.e. institutionalizing transnational mechanisms for intelligence sharing.

The GI welcomes several positive elements that are apparent in Objective 9, namely the implicit acknowledgment that migrant smuggling and human trafficking are distinct crimes requiring separate policy and practical responses; the need to prioritize responses to situations of smuggling under aggravated circumstances; and the reiteration that smuggled migrants should not be criminalized.

Of some concern, however, is the goal of ending the impunity of smuggling networks. There is a lack of nuance in this goal: it echoes the traditional perspective that all smuggling is inherently exploitative, illicit behaviour. It fails to appreciate that migrant smuggling exists on a spectrum – from very low-level, limited or non-profit activities to highly orchestrated, violent and lucrative criminal groups extorting and exploiting migrants. This goal therefore runs the risk of perpetuating the pursuit of any perpetrator embroiled in smuggling, when it should instead be rallying for a collective commitment by law-enforcement bodies to prioritize the investigation of those who facilitate the worst forms of smuggling.

To disrupt smuggling networks effectively and end the impunity of actors within them, the GI believes the Zero Draft should provide clearer direction to states and law-enforcement bodies on the need to prioritize counter-smuggling efforts. In particular, the GI suggests that law-enforcement bodies target those groups that

  • have the infrastructure and capacity to move large numbers of people en masse;
  • use the profits from smuggling in harmful ways (e.g. to perpetrate violence, conflict or terrorism); and
  • enact the greatest levels of abuse or exploitation against the people they move.

What is disappointing about Objective 9 is that it fails to acknowledge that refugees and migrants do not simply ‘feel compelled to resort to smugglers’, but they are forced to rely upon smugglers in the absence of any viable alternative. When the pressure or desire to move exists – and there are no opportunities to do so safely or legally – then smuggling is many people’s only option.

Fundamentally, the solution to preventing smuggling is the existence or creation of safe and legal routes to countries of destination, and freedom of movement and trade in the regions of source and transit. Until this is accepted, we risk crafting more creative yet ineffective policies in the Global Compact designed to overcome these deficiencies.

* The Global Compact for Migration is one of two non-legally binding documents that countries committed to create in the 2016 New York Declaration.

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Samantha McCormack

Sam is a Senior Analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. She has extensive experience in the fields of counter trafficking, migration and criminal justice. She has worked for the United Nations, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Walk Free Foundation, a global anti-slavery initiative.

Sam specializes in human trafficking trends in the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. She has conducted extensive field research throughout MENA, and during 2016, worked with the UN in Iraq to assess the growing phenomenon of trafficking in conflict. She is currently researching the nexus between human smuggling and human trafficking.

Sam is the co-author of the 2014 and 2016 Global Slavery Index, and the IOM’s 2015 report The Other Migrant Crisis. She is a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Australia. She is currently based in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Tuesday Reitano

Tuesday Reitano is Deputy Director at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and a senior research advisor at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, where she leads the ENACT programme on behalf of the GI. Tuesday was formerly the director of CT MORSE, an independent policy and monitoring unit for the EU’s programmes in counter-terrorism, and for 12 years was a policy specialist in the UN System, including with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Development Group (UNDG) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In this time, she has amassed a wealth of experience in fragile states and development working both with states, civil society and at the community level to strengthen resilience to transnational threats, promote sustainable development and the rule of law. Tuesday has authored a number of policy orientated and academic reports with leading institutions such as the UN, World Bank and OECD on topics ranging from organized crime’s evolution and impact in Africa, on human smuggling, illicit financial flows, and the nexus between crime, terrorism, security and development. Tuesday is the lead author of a forthcoming OECD flagship publication: Illicit Financial Flows: Criminal Economies in West Africa, co-author of Migrant, Refugee; Smuggler, Saviour, a book published in 2016 by Hurst on the role of smugglers in Europe’s migration crisis, and the editor of Militarised Responses to Organised Crime: War on Crime, published by Palgrave in 2017. She holds three Masters Degrees in Business Administration (MBA), Public Administration (MPA) and an MSc in Security, Conflict and International Development (MSc). Tuesday is based in Geneva, Switzerland, with her family.

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