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United Nations: Agreement to Combat Trafficking in Persons

(Dec. 6, 2011) On October 31, 2011, the heads of two United Nations agencies – the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to better coordinate the agencies' efforts to combat trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants. The two main objectives of the new agreement are to prosecute the traffickers and better protect the victims. (Max Slater, UN Agencies Sign Agreement to Combat Human Trafficking, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Nov. 1, 2011).

According to the UNODC, the MOU “is the first formal cooperation agreement between the two United Nations entities.” (UNODC and UNHCR Sign Memorandum of Understanding to Combat Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling, UNODC website (Nov. 1, 2011).) Issues covered by the MOU include migration management, health work in refugee camps, and the expansion of joint activities under the U.N. Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. The work of the two agencies targets four geographical areas – Latin America, the Gulf of Aden, Afghanistan and the bordering countries, and North Africa – and the MOU is also directed at these regions. (Id.)

The MOU also calls for more coordinated information exchange, especially to identify “areas of operational cooperation” between the UNODC and the UNHCR, and “for the setting up of a coordination mechanism, where appropriate, in specific country situations and in areas of shared concern, such as protection safeguards in relation to border management.” (Press Conference on Signing of Memorandum of Understanding Between United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [hereinafter Press Conference], U.N. website (Oct. 31, 2011.)

The Executive Director of the UNODC, Yuri Fedotov, stated at the signing of the MOU:

UNODC's mandate in combating organized crime is complementary to UNHCR's work of protecting refugees. As we have often seen with human trafficking and migrant smuggling, criminals prey on society's most vulnerable. Refugees, in search of a better life, can become victims of these criminals and it is important that we offer coordinated assistance to those who need it the most. (UNODC and UNHCR Sign Memorandum of Understanding to Combat Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling, supra.)

Co-signer UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres pointed out that crime has become more deeply embedded in conflict situations, with the result that refugees have increasingly become “victims, not only of traditional persecution by States, but also victims of persecution by all kinds of actors, in particular criminal actors.” Thus, he stated, “there is a bigger and bigger linkage between criminality and the reasons that force people to flee and victimize refugees and other displaced people.” (Press Conference, supra.)