New emerging technologies and COVID-19 have triggered opportunistic, predatory behaviour from organized criminal networks, which often utilize fraudulent travel documents and/or stolen or lost passports to facilitate migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons, and irregular migration.
The global border closures marked a drop in the number of irregular journeys, resulting in a significant loss of profit for organized criminal networks. Analysts observed that as travel and movement restrictions have been eased in some parts of the world, organized criminal networks started moving from a reactive position – taking advantage of migrants’ vulnerabilities – towards a more proactive role, by actively promoting their illegal services, and putting the lives of migrants at higher risks by using more perilous routes.
As migrant smuggling activities became more difficult, the already exorbitant irregular migration costs increased, as well as the risk of coercion into various payment schemes for the different facilitators along the journey, such as forced drug smuggling, guiding other irregular migrants across the border and sexual or labour exploitation.
This was the background to the 6th Annual Meeting of the Asian Network for Document Examination (ANDEX) held earlier this week (1-3 February), and attended by over 80 document examination experts from 18 countries across Asia and the Pacific who demonstrated their commitment to combatting transnational organized crime. The virtual meeting was hosted by the Government of the Republic of the Maldives.
Under IOM’s Document Examination Support Centre (DESC), and with support from the Government of Canada, ANDEX was formally established in 2013 as a regional platform for experienced immigration and law enforcement officials to share information and best practices in travel document examination, identity verification procedures, and patterns of fraud. IOM and the rotating Chair of the Network organize annual meetings to facilitate information exchange among Member States and coordinate operational responses to address irregular migration.
“ANDEX has always invited countries to move away from reactive, unidimensional approaches to border management, and to reach consensus on a comprehensive and coordinated approach to enable safe, regular migration in Asia and the Pacific,” said Dr. Nenette Motus, IOM Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, in her opening remarks.
“By standing true to the guiding principles of ANDEX, we all are well-placed to facilitate regular migration and curb transnational organized crime, as well as effectively respond to new and unforeseen challenges.”
“I am extremely happy and thankful to the Member States that Maldives got to hold this meeting. ANDEX has provided a key regional platform for dialogue and information sharing to tackle irregular migration, human trafficking, migrant smuggling and other transnational organized crimes through coordination and cooperation among Member States. As a participating country, Maldives has immensely benefited of being a member of this forum,” said Mohamed Ahmed Hussain, Controller General of Immigration in the Maldives.
David McKinnon, High Commissioner of Canada to the Maldives, noted “the need for enhanced measures to disrupt irregular migration, as organized transnational crime networks continue to take advantage of the uncertain environment produced by COVID-19 to increase their illegal profits, resulting in greater irregular migration across the region and towards Europe and the Americas.”
He added that “Canada is pleased to continue its support of the ANDEX and is very proud of the successes achieved by the Member States.”
The meeting involved relevant international organizations such as Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with the ultimate objective to ensure even a more comprehensive and multidisciplinary support to requesting countries.
According to Donato Colucci, IOM Asia-Pacific’s Senior Regional IBM Specialist, “IOM currently supports 18 countries in the Asia Pacific region – for a total of 42 border crossing points – with the Verifier Travel Document and Bearer (Verifier TD&B), a secondary travel document inspection tool that assists immigration and border control officers in the detection of fraudulent documents and imposters.”
He added that INTERPOL operates the Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) Database that contains over 100 million records where law enforcement officers can check if a travel or identity document was lost, stolen, revoked, invalidated or stolen blank by relevant national authorities.
“To enhance the effectiveness of border checks and support investigations with stronger, more timely evidence on the use of fraudulent documents and identities, IOM and INTERPOL have streamlined automated procedures by ensuring interoperability between Verifier TD&B and SLTD,” Colucci explained.
At locations implementing interoperability, each time a travel document is checked with Verifier TD&B, the system will automatically check the document against SLTD. The combination of the two results will support border and other law enforcement officials in carrying out investigations and cooperating nationally and internationally to address transnational and cross jurisdictional crimes involving fraudulent travel documents and false identities, with a focus on the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons.