This feature has been edited for clarity and length. Mr. Schatzis was speaking to Melissa Fleming, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications. You can hear the full interview on the UN podcast, wake up at night.
Human trafficking and migrant smuggling have evolved a lot since I first took this job. It has become more severe, in the sense of what criminals inflict on people. There is more violence, there are younger victims and there are more child victims.
It’s a crime that can sometimes happen right in front of our eyes, while we go to work, go shopping, take our kids to school, or meet friends for dinner. There are industries that we deal with in our daily lives, such as hospitality, agriculture, construction, etc. where victims of human trafficking are exploited.
Smugglers in Europe take groups of children from one country to another and force them to beg. Then they take all the money and often leave them starving. For criminals, it’s all about money, and people are just a way to make a profit.
We have to accept that criminals are themselves real people. They have friends, families and children. They may even work within organizations that are supposed to deal with these crimes, such as the police or the immigration service and abuse their profession.
Every smuggling story can shake you to the core
Every smuggling story can shake you to the core. It affects children, even children can be victims. There are girls and women of all ages who are sexually exploited, men desperately seeking work, who find themselves in the hands of criminal gangs who then use them for forced labor and for other purposes.
We now have the internet side of crime. Videos and images of sexual exploitation are distributed all over the world through various channels. You can remove them from one platform, but they appear on another.
I always feel that we can all do more against this crime. In the long run, we need to really look at our model of development and how our economies are structured. The private sector has an important role in these efforts and has a responsibility to act.
Focus on how to stop criminals
With smuggling migrantsWe need to focus on how to stop criminals, not immigrants. Smuggling gangs make a lot of money from people who are looking for a better life. As we try to stop criminals, we must not forget about migrants themselves and the need to respect their dignity, human rights, and provide protection to those who need it.
Trafficking in Human Beings It is not a crime that only occurs in the developing world. It happens in every region. According to our latest Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 148 of the 193 Member States of the United Nations have reported cases of human trafficking in the past two years.
The team I lead works around the world to support countries to combat human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Through the services we provide, front-line responders, police authorities, prosecutors and judges are better equipped to protect trafficking victims and smuggled migrants and secure the conviction of perpetrators.
I have seen a lot of human suffering in my career. I saw it myself when I was based in the former Yugoslavia. You have experienced the uprooting of people by war, the exploitation of people by others, the links between organized crime and war, the disintegration of families and the desire to go back to where they belong, but not being able to do so, because things have changed so much that you will not recognize the place.
We still have a lot to learn from ourselves and from history. We are not learning fast enough. I accepted this job and hope to make a difference. I’m really trying to make sure that what I’m doing is going to have some real positive impact.”