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First course on boarding migrant boats to combat trafficking in Asia and the Pacific

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UNODC organizes the first visit, board, search and seizure course in Southeast Asia on encounters with migrant boats

Batam (Indonesia), 2 December 2022 – Migrant smuggling is a global organized crime that endangers the lives, safety and security of migrants. It remains a complex challenge in Southeast Asia, as many countries in the region are often both the source, the destination, and transit points of these illicit activities.

A study on migrant smuggling in Asia and the Pacific by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that Southeast Asia has been a popular destination for smuggled migrants since the early 2000s.

Migrants within and beyond the region move to Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to find work. Meanwhile, migrants are leaving source countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Viet Nam, while Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Thailand are also used as transit points by smugglers.

Since 2014, thousands of Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been smuggled by sea through Southeast Asian waters. Indonesia, on the other hand, is known as an important transit country for maritime migrant smuggling to Australia. These trends are alarming since migrants travelling by sea are at increased risk of abuse and death.

UNODC is taking action to help effectively combat criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling by sea routes. The UNODC Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) has developed a specialized visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) training course on encounters with migrant vessels. The course was delivered for the first time to maritime law enforcement officers from Southeast Asian countries in Batam on 14-25 November 2022.

The GMCP head Siri Bjune described the course as “offering maritime law enforcement personnel the knowledge and skills to successfully execute safe VBSS procedures, with a focus on complex operations connected to the smuggling of migrants by maritime routes.”

The two-week course combines theory with hands-on exercises at sea to provide a comprehensive understanding of VBSS operations including boarding procedures, protecting vulnerable people, collecting and handling evidence, and dealing with unseaworthy vessels.

At sea, law enforcement personnel will be required to board, search, assess and make critical decisions, perhaps dealing with aggressive behaviour or providing first aid and casualty management in situations that pose a threat to life. The course simulates such scenarios, training participants in underway and static boarding operations.

Nor Fatin Farhani binti Jamal, one of the female participants, believes the training enhanced her skills: “Because not all migrants are men, I can conduct body search on women and children and ensure the safety of my crew and of the migrants, so this course is very helpful for me.”

GMCP plans to invite more boarding teams from maritime law enforcement agencies in the region to attend the VBSS training on encounters with migrant vessels. It will also be organized in other Southeast Asian countries where smuggling of migrants by sea routes remains a major concern.

As International Migrants Day (18 December) draws close, UNODC reaffirms its commitment to working closely with partners to tackle the smuggling of migrants and protect migrant lives and human rights.

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