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Migrant Smuggling


Sometimes the abuses and atrocities that the UN seeks to prevent, through international Conventions and Agency ​engagement, hit close to home in a way that forces us to ask whether we are doing enough.

On the 19th of January, 2022 a family of four probable migrants, seeking to cross the border from Manitoba to the US, died from exposure. Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, and their children, Vihangi and Dharmik are thought to have been part of a group of migrants exploited by criminals and led into danger as they sought a better life.

They are not alone in either their quest or their tragedy. The COVID pandemic has worsened the migrant smuggling crisis with the diversion of resources reducing cross-border coordination and enforcement efforts. At the same time, the global economic slowdown, travel restrictions and the tightening of borders have driven up demand for illegal entry routes.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has a team devoted to stopping human trafficking and migrant smuggling. The mission of these dedicated individuals is the, ‘dismantling of the criminal enterprises that trade in people and the conviction of the main perpetrators.’

Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants. As a nation we have agreed to work to reduce the smuggling of migrants, protect the rights of smuggled migrants and protect the abuse commonly inflicted on smuggled migrants.

As a nation we have seen migrant smuggling cases prosecuted against smugglers bringing in migrants for domestic servitude, for work in the construction sector, and forced exploitation, amongst other heinous motives.

But migrant smuggling can take many forms. Canada is not immune from intimate partner smuggling in which individuals cultivate a romantic relationship with a vulnerable person, smuggling them into Canada and into an abusive relationships.

As the UNODC states, ‘Ultimately, our work safeguards people from the abuse, neglect, exploitation or even death that is associated with these crimes.’. UNODC doesn’t work alone. In Canada the RCMP, and other police forces, ​along with the and Canada Border Services Agency work together to patrol, investigate and prosecute the criminals behind migrant smuggling. The Government of Canada recently funded STARSOM, a two-year project to counter migrant smuggling and protect the lives and rights of migrants across routes leading to North America. 

At the United Nations Association in Canada, we work to create awareness of the United Nations and its work here in Canada while creating opportunities for Canadians to participate in global processes as we ‘Grow Global Citizens’.

We are working hard, but more needs to be done to shine a light on the heinous crime that is migrant smuggling.

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As a national civil society organization, UNA-Canada continues to raise awareness, concern and empathy on international issues that affect us all. A major focus of our programmes is to support youth as they gain empathy-based skills that enable them to live and serve as caring global citizens. For more information please visit our website at

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