Migrant Smuggling: Background information when reading The Jaguar's Children

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The Jaguar's Children

by John Vaillant

The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant X
The Jaguar's Children by John Vaillant
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2015, 288 pages

    Jan 2016, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

Migrant Smuggling

This article relates to The Jaguar's Children

Print Review

The Jaguar's Children is based on a real-life example of migrant smuggling gone awry. Unfortunately such incidents are becoming increasingly common around the world.

It's important to note that there are differences between migrant smuggling and human trafficking even if there might be overlap between the two kinds of offenses. The United Nations defines migrant smuggling as the "procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident." Human trafficking, on the other hand, involves the recruiting, transporting, or harboring of people by means of threat, coercion, or fraud for the purpose of exploitation. That exploitation can take many forms: sexual exploitation, forced slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs.

While migrant smuggling, which is reportedly a US$7 billion industry, can also morph into exploitation, and the boundaries between the two are fluid, there are important differences: First, migrant smuggling is usually done by consent. An informal contract is agreed to by both the smuggler and the migrant. Second, there is a clear crossing of international boundaries. Trafficking can often be done within a country's borders. Third, once the smuggling is done, there is no lasting relationship between migrant and smuggler. This is not so in the case of human trafficking, continued exploitation means an ongoing relationship between the victim and the perpetrator.

Here are a few headline-grabbing incidents of migrant smuggling from across the world:

United States
Thousands of unaccompanied minors, many of whom originate from countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador, have been migrating to the United States for a while, but the situation came to the limelight with a sudden increase in activity in late summer/early fall 2014. The situation lead President Barack Obama to label it a "humanitarian crisis." While reasons for the influx are many, experts commonly attribute the increasing drug violence in the migrants' countries of origin for the rise in reliance on smugglers to get them across. The long wait periods for asylum seekers to be heard has also created the false impression that they are allowed to stay in the United States permanently. Many children were held in crowded detention centers while the U.S. Congress looked to act on an immigration bill with potential ramifications for future waves of migrants.

The Ezadeen Cargo Vessel flying the flag of Sierra Leone was intercepted on 1 January 2015, 110 nautical miles from Calabria (Italy) by Italian and Icelandic Coast Guard patrol vessels. The vessel had departed from Turkey on 24 December 2014 with 360 Syrian migrants (232 men, 54 women and 74 children) on board. The cargo vessel was originally intended to transport livestock but was modified to transport people by installing toilets and cooking areas. Steel cages divided areas. The boat did not have any life jackets nor any working navigation systems. As was the case in The Jaguar's Children, the migrants had been abandoned by the smugglers and two had taken charge of the boat and placed an emergency call.

Before being voted into office, Tony Abbott, the prime minister of Australia had pledged to "stop the boats," a reference to the many boats full of migrant refugees seeking asylum in the country. For a while, the policy was held in place by pushing boats back to Indonesia from where many had originated. In June 2014, more than 150 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers were captured on a boat near Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. The refugees had been transferred to a customs vessel at sea while they awaited a hearing, a move that was widely criticized as being against international protocol. In late January 2015, however, the Australian High Court ruled that the government's action was legal.

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Jaguar's Children. It originally ran in February 2015 and has been updated for the January 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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