People smugglers made billions on the backs of some 2.5 million desperate migrants in 2016, the UN said in a report Wednesday as the plight of refugees worldwide continues to top the headlines.
The report, issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said people-smuggling rings earned some $7.0 billion (7.0 billion euros) in 2016 -- an amount, it noted, equal to US and EU humanitarian aid that year.
The figures are the latest available covering 30 major migrant routes in Africa, Europe, North America and Asia but they quite likely understate the extent of the problem, according to the report.
The real tragedy remains the plight of human beings fleeing war and poverty so desperate that they put their trust in smuggling gangs who have little regard for their safety, with thousands of migrants dying each year.
"This transnational crime preys on the most vulnerable of the vulnerable," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director of Policy Analysis and Public Affairs in a statement.
"It's a global crime that requires global action, including improved regional and international cooperation and national criminal justice responses."