Tackling People Smuggling in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea has become in the last years a people smugglers destination. Its geography close to Australia, the difficulty of controlling its porous 760 km border shared with Indonesia, a very long coastline, remoteness, lack of infrastructure and developing economy are all factors that have contributed in making this country a destination and a transit passage for smugglers and smuggled persons. 

According to Gregory Mills, who is a consultant working with IOM on counter-smuggling, “There are two broad main reasons why smugglers choose Papua New Guinea for their operations. One is as a transit country towards the chosen destination of Australia and the other reason is as a destination country mainly in search of work opportunities linked to Papua New Guinea’s expanding economy especially in certain sectors requiring skilled and unskilled labourers like logging, possibly mining, some agricultural sectors like palm oil and fishing.”

One has to distinguish between smuggling and trafficking. Trafficking is characterized by coercion, deception and servitude (generally sexual and labour servitude). Smuggling is transnational in nature, consisting of Person A, Person B and Country C. The smuggled person is a free agent. However it is possible that a smuggled person can become along the smuggling pipeline a trafficked person, being placed in a situation of servitude. Trafficked can be internal, smuggled by its nature is transnational. 

So how prepared is Papua New Guinea (PNG) to tackle smuggling and trafficking? Gregory Mills says the legislative framework is in place. In 2014 the Parliament of Papua New Guinea enacted the “Trafficking in Persons and People Smuggling” legislation making it a crime to smuggle and traffic persons in PNG. However, while the authorities are keen to learn how to enforce the legislation, border officials are in need of training on how to identify and handle instances of people smuggling, and how to properly understand the implementation of the legislation.

In order to support the Government and national border institutions, such as the Immigration and Citizenship Services Authority (ICSA) and Customs, to more effectively combat people smuggling and manage PNG’s international borders, IOM has launched a project on counter-smuggling called “Capacity Building in Combating Human Smuggling in Papua New Guinea” (COUNTER) funded by the Government of Canada.  A Train the Trainer exercise and a Guidebook on Identifying and Handling People Smuggling in a PNG context will be developed and distributed for reference at the end of this project.  “This exercise will help identify and build data to help recognize and eventually prosecute the smuggler. Evidential data is necessary to handle an incident in a correct and methodical way. It stays in the law, people cannot be prosecuted because they are smuggled but because they are smugglers,” Mills said.

He also mentioned that “There is certainly a case for more work to be done, that’s the reason to do the Train the Trainers Guidebook, to give a level of sustainability, to give the PNG government some tools to use in the future, and to contribute to sustainability by ensuring that training can be carried out by national border protection institutions even after the project ends in June 2015.”

So why is it so important to tackle the problem when there are so many other pressing issues like poor health and education to deal with? Mills says, “One needs to understand the damage to the border integrity of a country, its sovereignty, from trafficking and smuggling. If untackled it will increase the capacity and penetration of organized crime; if you ignore a small problem it will become a big problem.”


(The Capacity Building in Combating Human Smuggling in Papua New Guinea project “COUNTER” is financed by the Government of Canada and aims to combat irregular migration and transnational organized crime by strengthening the capacity of frontline immigration and border management officials in PNG to recognize and better combat human trafficking. IOM is the only international organization currently working in the area of border management in PNG with Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) with the Immigration and Citizenship Services Authority (ICSA) and Customs, respectively and is well placed to identify the gaps. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) are currently funding IOM to strengthen the capacity of ICSA to effectively manage the PNG borders).

For more information, contact Beatriz Muñoz Girardengo, IOM Papua New Guinea, Email:

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