The 58 illegal immigrants who perished in the back of a produce truck as it was ferried across the English Channel only hint at the volume of people smuggling in Europe and North America. This traffic in human beings has become a legal and humanitarian dilemma.
The immediate official response is to crack down on the smugglers. But that's a difficult proposition. Even before the grisly discovery by customs agents in Dover, England, Britain had begun to toughen its enforcement measures. Truck drivers are fined $3,000 for every stowaway found in their vehicles.
But the drivers often claim no knowledge of their human cargo. More important, the smuggling rings charge thousands per migrant. They rake in such large profits that fines are only minor disincentives, and it's anyone's guess how many of their "shipments" get through undetected. At least 50 international crime organizations are believed to be smuggling some 400,000 people into Europe yearly. Add the illegal human traffic into North America and the totals approach 1 million.
Nothing short of a globally coordinated effort is going to stem this tide. International agreements to combat the smuggling of human beings have been drawn up. Countries of origin, transit countries, and destination countries; all have a part to play in breaking the chain of exploitation and virtual slavery endured by migrants.
Nations like China have a responsibility to curb the smuggling at its starting point, where traffickers round up people desperate for economic betterment. The United States, Britain, Germany, and other target countries have to carefully assess their asylum procedures, as well as the practices and needs of industries that all too readily absorb the illegal migrants.
The movement of people across borders can't be stopped. In today's world, even the very poor are increasingly aware of opportunities abroad. More must be done to keep their hopes from turning into a tragedy like that discovered at Dover.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society