World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

António Vitorino Director General, Director General IOM

The images are unforgettable. Desperate families in sweltering shipping containers and rickety boats. Bodies washed up on shores and beaches following failed voyages. Human beings scarred and broken from years of abuse and exploitation.

Indeed, we are shattered by tales of violence and predation by those willing to exploit the desperate for their own personal gain. Our consciences are shaken with the realization that children are at risk of irreparable damage—even death—simply because their families are trying to improve their futures.

But still it is not enough. We need to go after the traffickers, too. And we must hold the governments of IOM’s member states accountable when they fail to protect the traffickers’ victims.

Nowadays, sadly, many governments first go after the NGOs who rescue vulnerable migrants, instead of going after the actual traffickers and smugglers themselves. It is unjust to penalize rescuers—especially on bureaucratic grounds such as not having proper docking permits, or operating without jurisdiction at sea—but it is also ineffective, and wastes the resources of both NGOs and the law enforcement agencies of these governments, themselves.

I understand that many people are migrating not only to flee desperate situations, but also to fulfill their own aspirations. I agree that governments have a legitimate interest in securing their borders and managing migration flows. I am aware that, oftentimes, governments must reach for a balance between the interests of their citizens and the balance between the interests of their citizens and the humanitarian needs of migrants which may not always appear to align.

However, we all have an interest in maintaining respect for human dignity and in upholding human rights.

Read more on the special webpage