National Assembly passes Anti-smuggling of Migrants legislation; strengthens Immigration Act to thwart people smuggling & trafficking

The Anti-smuggling of Migrants 2024 Bill was successfully passed into law today in the National Assembly of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Along with the Immigration Amendment Bill, which also successfully made its way through the House, the new anti-smuggling law enhances the framework within which human trafficking and illegally smuggled migrants can be adequately addressed. 

The Anti-smuggling of Migrants Bill was specifically drafted, however to deal with criminals involved in the trafficking, smuggling of people and those who facilitate them in any way.

Under the new Act, people engaged in smuggling people or their ill treatment can now face fines of up to EC$500,000.00, imprisonment of up to 20 years and the seizure of any property or assets resulting from engagement in the illegal trade or profit from it.

Meanwhile, those who are convicted as the accomplices of smugglers will face penalties including fines of up to $EC250,000.00 and imprisonment of up to 7 years.

The need for new legislation was driven home when several illegally transported migrants from the African continent found themselves in St. Kitts and Nevis recently. Their presence in the federation caused much debate over how this unique humanitarian crisis should be handled as it soon became apparent that many of the people who found themselves here had fled from nations embroiled in civil war and other crises.

According to Attorney General Garth Wilkin, it became evident that many of the illegally transported migrants had been promised entry into neighbouring St. Maarten by traffickers who failed to uphold their end of the deal. 

It is believed that large sums of money were exchanged to facilitate the illegal plan which left hundreds of people stranded in the Caribbean.

Sadly, several of these migrants died as they attempted to leave the smaller Caribbean islands they gained access to the region through in the hope of making their way to Europe and North America.

Among other things, the new legislation has introduced harsh penalties for criminals engaged in people smuggling.

Member of Parliament for Constituency 3, Konris Maynard, said the strident penalties in Anti-smuggling of Migrants Act will serve as a powerful deterrent for those seeking to use St. Kitts and Nevis as a gateway for their insidious crimes. 

He also noted the urgency in dealing with the global problem of human trafficking and smuggling as its extent is far greater than available statistics would suggest and with no end in sight as the estimated annual financial reward for those involved is in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

“In the Caribbean, it is estimated that the lowball figure is 80,000 to 120,000 persons being, in this case, either trafficked or smuggled. That’s annually. Again, there is no real way to know the extent of the numbers. But the point is…that there is a great financial incentive for smugglers to smuggle, and so what we’re here today to do, is to create a legislative disincentive,” said MP Maynard. 

“So this Bill is really directed at the smugglers, the architects of the trade, the harbourers of the trade to disincentivise them to use St. Kitts and Nevis as one of the spots for smuggling or for drop off points to facilitate smuggling,” he went on.

According to the International Labour Organization, human trafficking is approximately a US$150 billion industry- the second most lucrative black market, second to only the illegal drug trade – with an estimated 30.3 million adults and 10 million children being trafficked in 2016 alone.

MP Maynard, like Attorney General Wilkin also pointed to the abuses vulnerable people who are trafficked and smuggled must endure at the hands of their handlers.

“Even in doing the wrong thing of smuggling, they go further to do more wrong things where they take money from vulnerable persons with no intention of fulfilling the agreement that they have made to those being smuggled,” Maynard said. 

He noted that people are often smuggled on faulty and poorly maintained vessels by unscrupulous criminals who give no consideration to their safety. This has often resulted in serious injury and death to the people hoping to escape troubled circumstances for a better life.

This is put into context by the United Nations’ Migration Office for Central and North America and the Caribbean reports that between 2016 and 2022 the Caribbean as a migration route for human trafficking and smuggling was the second most deadly in the world. According to the UN’s Missing Migrants project, an alarming 1180 people were reported as either dead or missing in this timeframe. Of that number, 93 percent are believed to have been lost to drowning.

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