People smuggling and human trafficking

People smuggling and human trafficking are an increasing concern regionally and at home.

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Continuing conflicts, political oppression and economic factors have led to a dramatic increase in irregular migration regionally and around the world.

People smuggling (also known as migrant smuggling) is where someone pays a smuggler - often within a criminal network - to help them cross a border illegally. People smuggling exposes migrants to great risks while generating huge profits for the smugglers involved.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by deceptive, coercive or other improper means for the purpose of exploiting that person. It is a global crime, committed at the expense of victims who are robbed of their dignity and freedom.

New Zealand works with the countries from where people who are smuggled and trafficked originate from, as well as the countries that they transit through. We participate in regional arrangements to combat these activities, and we're party to the Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime.

The Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime

This convention, also known as the Palermo Convention, tackles three areas of transnational organised crime: people smuggling, human trafficking and arms dealing. It has a protocol for each – the Palermo Protocols – and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is its custodian. New Zealand is one of 183 parties to the convention, and is party to each of the three protocols.

Read the Palermo Convention(external link)

Find out about New Zealand's efforts to prevent the illegal transfer of arms

The Bali Process

New Zealand is a member of the Bali Process, a regional forum that addresses people smuggling and human trafficking by strengthening Asia Pacific cooperation in countering these activities. It does this by:

  • developing and sharing information on the patterns and trends of irregular migration
  • increasing cooperation between governments, immigration, border protection and law enforcement agencies
  • working with governments to develop legislation and support victims
  • addressing the push and pull factors driving irregular migration.

The Bali Process was established in 2002 and is co-chaired by Australia and Indonesia. More than 40 countries and many international agencies are involved. We’re an active member of the Bali Process Steering Group and the Ad Hoc Group, which work to counter people smuggling and human trafficking in the region.

Examples of New Zealand's recent activities:

  • we currently co-chair (with Sri Lanka) the Working Group on the Disruption of Criminal People Smuggling and Trafficking Networks. This groups focuses on practical action to disrupt transnational criminal networks involved in people smuggling and human trafficking
  • we have co-hosted a two day workshop with Indonesia, to raise awareness of effective information campaigns that inform migrants of the dangers of people-smuggling and human-trafficking operations
  • we have been delivering training in people smuggling investigation skills to law enforcement agencies from throughout the Asia region, at the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation.

We also provide funding to the UN Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT), which was established in 2014 to coordinate efforts to combat human trafficking in the Greater Mekong sub-region (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the Chinese province of Yunnan).

Find out more about the UN Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking(external link)

Find out more about the Bali Process and its work(external link)

What we're doing at home

Mass arrivals

While New Zealand was once considered too isolated to be a serious destination for people smuggling, the possibility of a mass arrival of migrants (more than 30 people) entering New Zealand unlawfully is a concern.

In 2013, Parliament passed legislation (the Immigration Amendment Act) to help deter people smugglers and manage a mass arrival if one occurs. People smuggling is an offence punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.

Read more on the Immigration website(external link)

Inter-Agency Working Group on Human Trafficking

Combating human trafficking requires the combined efforts of numerous government agencies. MFAT is part of the Inter-Agency Working Group on human trafficking, established in 2006, to:

  • carry out training and awareness raising exercises
  • develop policies to deliver support to victims
  • empower victims to take part in the criminal justice process against their traffickers.

Other members of the working group include the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, the Police, Customs, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Ministries of Justice, Health, Social Development and Women's Affairs.

Plans are underway to review the working group's Plan of Action to Prevent human trafficking, which was published in 2009 and which sets out the activities of the different agencies involved.

Read about the NZ Plan of Action(external link)

Maritime Security Strategy

The Maritime Security Strategy(external link) provides direction for the maritime security sector that contributes to the advancement of New Zealand’s national security through a common approach, coordinated investment decisions and effective resource prioritisation.

It aligns the maritime security sector to the Government’s national security, foreign policy and climate change priorities and ensures that maximum benefit is derived from the Government’s significant investments in maritime security capability.

The Maritime Security Strategy ensures New Zealand has an efficient and effective maritime security sector that is able to continue to secure New Zealand’s marine economic, cultural and environmental interests for future generations.


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