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Growing human smuggling trade worth billions

Media Release

16 August 1999

"Yesterday's discovery of the largest boatload of illegal immigrants ever to arrive in Australia is a major organised crime and human rights issue", said Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Adam Graycar, today.

Smuggling and trafficking in human beings is a lucrative industry involving about four million people and turning over billions of dollars each year worldwide.

Speaking in Israel at an international conference on Migration, Culture and Crime, Dr Graycar said the continuing growth of the industry would not only compromise the immigration programs of countries like Australia, but spark international tensions between countries.

"While only a relatively small number of illegal immigrants come to Australia at present, our vast expanse of coastline, high standard of living, and economic and political stability make it a very attractive destination. But Australian authorities are performing well under difficult circumstances", he said.

Illegal migrants may be escaping poverty, unemployment, persecution or conflict. In many instances they are driven by despair and lured by false promises or misled by misinformation about migration regulations.

Illegal migrants fall into four categories:

  • those who pay the smugglers, knowing they are acting illegally;
  • those who pay, believing they are acting legally, but jumping the queue;
  • those who cannot afford to pay the full amount, but are willing to work off the debt in the new country; and
  • those who are totally unaware of what is happening to them, for example, children who have been sold.

The paper Dr Graycar presented at the conference, Trafficking in Human Beings, outlines the structure and activities of trafficking networks, and the law enforcement response.

"While law enforcement has a very important role to play, the ultimate answer lies in international cooperation, treaties and enforceable legislation", he said.

The Australian Institute of Criminology has embarked on a major international study in conjunction with the United Nations, which will:

  • assess the current smuggling/trafficking situation;
  • assess the institutional capacity to respond to these crimes;
  • provide legal advice and technical cooperation; and
  • develop a national strategy and elements of a sub-regional strategy for future adoption by government and possibly ASEAN.

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