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Illegal immigrants from China huddle next to a container full of stowaways at Terminal 18 at the Port of Seattle Monday Jan. 10, 2000. (HARLEY SOLTES/HARLEY SOLTES/AP)
Illegal immigrants from China huddle next to a container full of stowaways at Terminal 18 at the Port of Seattle Monday Jan. 10, 2000. (HARLEY SOLTES/HARLEY SOLTES/AP)

Globe editorial

Ending human smuggling Add to ...

Next month's meeting of Canada's Immigration Minister with his European counterparts is an important acknowledgment that human smuggling is a transnational problem that requires global solutions.

Jason Kenney's meeting in Paris with his French counterpart, Eric Besson, will rightly focus on bolstering international co-operation to infiltrate criminal syndicates which exploit vulnerable people in search of a better life. Also in attendance will be immigration officials from Spain, Italy, Germany, the U.K., the U.S. and Belgium.

Human smuggling, a form of modern-day slavery, subjects people to hazardous, sometimes life-threatening, travel by ship or in trucks, in journeys organized by criminal organizations, including recruiters, transporters and escorts, enforcers and debt collectors. Every year thousands die en route to their destinations.

This growing phenomenon takes many forms, from the arrival of undocumented Africans every summer in southern Spain, to the recent landing of 492 Sri Lankan asylum seekers aboard the MV Sun Sea on the coast of B.C. The fishing vessel sailed through Thai and Cambodian waters, underscoring the need for global co-operation. This week in Mexico, the bodies of 72 South American migrants were found at a remote ranch in the north, apparently massacred by a drug cartel.

"The Paris meeting is the first of its kind, and a recognition that the issue of human trafficking, and the global movement of asylum seekers, is a global one. Countries face similar challenges, " said Alykhan Velshi, a spokesperson for Mr. Kenney. Canada is already a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which outlines tools for co-operation, including information sharing and law enforcement co-operation.

Globalization, population growth and urbanization have led to an unprecedented level of migration from poor countries to wealthier ones, with an estimated 2.5 to 4 million people crossing international borders illegally every year. As borders grow thicker, and improved technology results in more careful monitoring, migrants increasingly rely on human smugglers, who often share their ethnicity.

Smuggled persons can become victims of human trafficking at any point in the transaction if they are coerced or denied freedom of choice, or forced to live in slave-like conditions. Some end up working in the sex trade industry, or as domestics, in massage parlours, or as child labourers.

Fees to reach Canada range from US$20,000 to $60,000, with down payments of about 10 per cent, and estimated annual profits of US$10-billion, according to the RCMP. Smugglers force migrants to pay off debts incurred as a result of their transportation, and benefit from the relatively low risk of detection, prosecution, and arrest - especially compared with other forms of organized crime.

Canada already has an agreement with the U.K., the U.S., Australia and New Zealand to share fingerprints of migrants. This allows authorities to cross-reference their identity, and check for criminality. Such an initiative with Europe would be helpful.

Working with other countries to dismantle these networks of smugglers is the only way to protect impoverished migrants from those who prey on their desperation. No country can work in isolation.

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