Migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons, and white slave trafficking, what's the difference?

Migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons, and white slave trafficking, what's the difference?

Migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons and even white slave trafficking: we might hear these expressions being used as synonyms, when in reality they have very different meanings. Let's start by eliminating one, the term "white slave trafficking".

The term "white slave trafficking" was used at different times in history, but today it is completely outdated, as it only refers to the sexual exploitation of "white-skinned women". The problem with using this expression is that it can imply that only women with certain characteristics can be victims of trafficking (a racist concept), and that the only end of trafficking is sexual exploitation, when the reality is much more complex. This brings us to the second and correct concept, "trafficking in persons".

"Trafficking in persons" refers to all those forms of exploitation for the benefit of a third party, such as debt bondage, child labor, forced labor, forced marriage, forced begging and the removal of organs. In international law, the term is left somewhat open depending on the context, since new forms appear periodically in which one person or group of people forces another to take actions against their will to achieve some benefit. It is a form of modern slavery and can occur within a country or internationally.

According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, there are three elements that must be met to characterize a crime as trafficking in persons:

  • The action: That is, the crime carried out by organized networks, where it is evident that actions were taken with the intention of facilitating the exploitation of another person, such as capturing, sending or receiving them.
  • The means: The means is how the criminals manage to carry out the trafficking, for example, through deceit and lies, force, violence, abuse of the other person's vulnerability, etc.
  • Exploitation: In itself, the abuse of another person for the benefit of a third party.

Each of these three elements is made up of many possible actions, but if an action corresponding to each element is carried out, we are dealing with a case of trafficking in persons.

Finally, there is the term "migrant smuggling," which refers to supporting the illegal transfer of a person across border, as "coyotes" do, for exmple. The big difference between "smuggling" and "trafficking" is that traffic violates the laws of the State that is illegally entered, while trafficking violates the human rights of a person. The crime of migrant smuggling is characterized by:

  • The facilitation of illegal entry of a person to another country.
  • The creation or supply of a false identity document or passport.
  • The authorization, by illegal means, of the permanent stay of a non-national or non-resident.

It is clear that both actions, smuggling and trafficking, are often related, since smuggling places people in situations of vulnerability that can trigger a trafficking process. The fact that both crimes are included in the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (also known as the Palermo Convention or Protocol) can also lead to confusion and leads to the belief that they are the same, but they are not.

To learn more about the dangers and characteristics of the crime of human trafficking, we recommend visiting the IOMX campaign.


In a distant country, Erick daydreams - #MigrantsDay

In a distant country, Erick daydreams - #MigrantsDay
Categoria: Return and Reintegration
Autor: Laura Manzi

Story based on the testimony of Erick Galeas, a returnee.

The outbound journey

The heat was suffocating, as if the breaths of fresh air had forgotten that point in the world, where an immense dryness permeated every corner. The ground burned, the sun gave no truce. And this was no small matter: Erick hated the heat, which only made him feel tired and weak.

On those long days with his skin so exposed to the sun, he would try to find some place in the shade to relax for a little while, alone with his thoughts. It may seem absurd, but at that moment, instead of worrying and being overcome by fear and agitation due to the long-awaited trip, the only thing he could think of was that sweater that he intended to buy once arrived in the United States. He wanted to live in a cold place, this was clear to him, to buy a lot of coats and scarves, and to have frozen hands. Wasn't that part of the American dream too? To be able to escape that dryness and have a closet full of sweaters?

The city of Tijuana, in Mexico, served as the setting for Erick's mental wanderings. It had been also his temporary residence for almost a month. Residence, not home. Erick had been living far away from home for nine months, since he left Honduras and began his journey: one day in Guatemala, one month in Chiapas, six months in Veracruz, then Ciudad Juárez and now there, Tijuana. Nine long months treasuring the desire to be able to find better economic opportunities and support his family that he left behind, which was enthusiastic about the idea of being able to receive some remittances.

To fight for his wish, Erick had to pay for his trip by working, doing whatever job he could find, often up to sixteen hours a day for a paltry salary. But that was not a time to be discouraged, because the next day Erick was going to cross the Mexican border into the United States, after having paid 7 thousand dollars  to a smuggler who promised to finally take him to his destination. This is how Erick's last trip to the north began: early in the morning, on any given Tuesday.

You may have noticed that Erick's imagination led him to daydreaming very often, and at the beginning of his journey, after months of malnutrition, he was wondering what his first meal in the US would have tasted like. Surely it would have been the most delicious meal of the last nine months, a meal that tastes of success ... And then wham!, his reverie was suddenly interrupted. An immigration police officer instantly nullified all of Erick's efforts, who was arrested shortly after. But that was not the end of his journey; little did he know that he still had six months to spend in detention: first in California, then in Arizona, Ohio, Louisiana, and Michigan. In his fantasy there were no police officers or detainees; however, this was the only image that Erick could capture from the United States.

How angry he felt when the comments of people who said "it is easy to get to the United States" and "it is a matter of one, maximum two weeks" came to mind. The lack of truthful and adequate information had been an accomplice to his misadventure. Erick was tired, disappointed, and alone. He was also afraid, because in the detention centers there were not only migrants seeking a better life, but also some common criminals who intimidated others, exacerbating their feelings of discomfort. For Erick, the only chance for peace was those few minutes of calls that he could share with his family. He told them that he was afraid that the US authorities would deport him to Honduras, and on the 175th day of his arrest, that was precisely what happened.

The return journey 

A bittersweet taste marked Erick's return. Not being able to fulfill his long-awaited American dream made him feel frustrated, almost ashamed and humiliated. His overwhelming sense of failure disappeared for a moment when, after almost a year and a half, he could finally hug his son. "Children grow up so fast," Erick thought. But the little boy was not the only one who had grown up in all that time; Erick had also gone through an enormous process of personal growth, and he had acquired an incredible strength.

Oh, and there was also the Honduran food. That really made his return happy!

It was not easy, it was not quick, but after a long path, on a day like today we can imagine Erick dealing with his daily tasks at his handicraft company in Honduras. His small family-run atelier became a company that sells its products nationwide: souvenir-type crafts that include a large sample of boats, helicopters and airplanes, all made of wood. It is a business that allows him and his family to live with better economic conditions than when Erick decided to venture to the United States.

His work activity was also able to flourish thanks to the help of the IOM (International Organization for Migration), which provided him with the necessary machinery for his work, and also to the CASM (Mennonite Social Action Commission), whose course on entrepreneurship strengthened Erick's management skills. The feeling of frustration that he experienced when he returned to Honduras has been transformed step by step into a feeling of satisfaction and happiness a he saw his business growing and gained greater confidence in himself, in his talent and ability. The training courses and the support provided helped him through a difficult process of return and reintegration, and empowered the young migrant on his return home.

Erick was able to build his economic subsistence and his professional fulfillment in Honduras, and among so many complex and unfortunate stories, this is a story with a happy ending. Even so, from time to time, he cannot help but daydream, thinking about what it would be like to travel to the United States again, this time legally, and stay there, even just for one day: to eat at a different restaurant and buy a thick winter sweater.