INTERPOL released an assessment outlining COVID-19's short and long-term effects on migrant smuggling and human trafficking. 

While some of the preventive measures have effectively hindered certain criminal opportunities in the short-term, smugglers and traffickers, as well as their victims, have sought and found ways to overcome them, notes INTERPOL. 

"Migrant smuggling and human trafficking are particularly affected by geo-political and socio-economic factors which vary greatly by region and in the ways they drive vulnerable communities in those regions to migrate. The COVID-19 pandemic is, and will continue, influencing these factors across the globe. The economic consequences will significantly impact peoples’ desire and ability to migrate, as well as the incentive and opportunities for criminals to profit from illegal migration which is also expected to increase," says the agency. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not blunted the determination of organized crime groups to prey on the vulnerable and make a profit from these crimes, which all too often cost the victims their lives,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock. “We see misinformation being used by human traffickers to convince desperate people to use their services, and at an even higher personal and financial cost because of increased difficulties in completing a journey due to travel restrictions. It is essential that law enforcement continues to cooperate and communicate internationally to maintain our vital work in protecting desperate men, women and children from potentially becoming victims of human slavery,” concluded the INTERPOL Chief.

Key information in the assessment included:

  • At the end of March, 64 male migrants were found dead, likely from asphyxia, inside a shipping container loaded on the back of a lorry, while crossing into Mozambique from Malawi. Fourteen surviving migrants, who were also travelling in the container, were rescued and treated at a local hospital.
  • The near cessation of international travel in March and April meant that migrant smuggling by air, notably intercontinental smuggling, stopped entirely. Restrictions on the maritime sector also had a short-term impact on smuggling routes by sea, such as those crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe.
  • Despite these immediate declines, migrant smuggling by land and sea continues around the world, and in ever more perilous conditions.  Key land migration routes, for example those connecting Central America to North America and the Horn of Africa to South Africa, have remained active as smugglers monitor border management in order to evade controls.
  • Europe and North America, the most frequent destination countries for irregular migration and migrant smuggling, have also been among the most heavily impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Information strongly suggests that migrants have not been discouraged from reaching, or attempting to reach, these destinations despite the risks of contagion.
  • Overall, while border closures and lockdowns may have temporarily stalled or stranded migrants en route, these same restrictive measures have also opened opportunities for smugglers and traffickers willing to take on the increased risks for increased premiums.

Due to its covert nature, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on human trafficking are harder to assess with certainty, notes the agency. It is highly likely that the pandemic and the ensuing global economic consequences will only increase the pool of at-risk persons and the likelihood of their being deceived, exploited, and ultimately, trafficked in the mid-term, INTERPOL concludes. 

For the full assessment, visit