Authorities in Uruguay have dismantled a network that smuggled Chinese migrants from Brazil to Argentina, highlighting the flow of migrants and human trafficking victims through the Southern Cone.
The operation was carried out by Uruguay's special anti-crime unit with the collaboration of international police body Interpol in the departments of Rivera, Salto, Paysandu and Montevideo, and resulted in the detention of 33 people. Among them were three Argentine nationals and six undocumented Chinese migrants, both male and female.
According to newspaper El Pais, the Chinese citizens are believed to have entered by crossing the Rivera border from the neighboring Santana do Livramento municipality in Brazil's Rio Grande del Sur department, and from there planned to travel to Argentina.
There is some confusion over whether the Chinese were illegal migrants or trafficking victims. According to EFE, once in Argentina, the migrants were intending to obtain false documents then leave for the United States. However, other reports said the Chinese were to be used as forced labor in Argentina.
InSight Crime Analysis
This is not the first case to highlight links between Uruguay and China. Authorities are aware of at least 50 Chinese migrants that have been smuggled through Uruguay in the past two years, and in December last year, security forces dismantled a human trafficking network allegedly dedicated to moving Chinese and Dominican citizens from Uruguay to Argentina for the purpose of forced labor.
It is not clear whether the Chinese migrants discovered in Uruguay were victims of human trafficking or had paid smugglers to help them enter the United States. Argentina, where some reports claimed the migrants would have been forced to work, has earned a reputation as a human trafficking hub and a destination for victims forced into prostitution or other work. The flow of illegal migrants through Latin America, though, is mostly concentrated further north.
A growing number of Asian and African migrants are attempting to enter the United States illegally by crossing the Mexican border, with around 2,300 cases registered in 2010 alone. Countries commonly used as transit points for illegal migrants include Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Guatemala. In one recent case, the head of passports in Guatemala's Department of Immigration, Jose Alberto de Leon Gramajo, was arrested on people smuggling charges for issuing false documents, highlighting the way in which official corruption has facilitated the trade.