How should migrant smuggling be confronted?

Report - External Series

Carling, Jørgen (2017) How should migrant smuggling be confronted?, Migration Research Leaders Syndicate in Support of the Global Compact for Migration. Geneva: International Organization for Migration.

Migrant smuggling is seen as antithetical to safe, orderly and regular migration. In fact, the fight against migrant smuggling stands out as a point of agreement in an otherwise fractured policy field. This apparent unity obscures disparate motivations for counter-smuggling measures. Traditionally, concerns about illegal work and residence have been prominent. More recently, the fight against migrant smuggling is also driven by states’ desire to minimize the obligations that follow from the 1951 refugee convention. These are just two out of eight motivations identified in the paper. The eight motivations for counter-smuggling efforts differ with respect to explicit ness and legitimacy. Insufficient clarity of purpose makes it more challenging to develop a sound response. Counter-smuggling strategies can be divided between those that seek to suppress the supply of smuggling services and those that seek to suppress demand. The conventional law-enforcement approach concentrates on curbing supply. Sustainable solutions are only possible with a reduced demand for migrant smuggling services. But demandoriented policy approaches go to the heart of migration management and raise political, legal, economic, and ethical dilemmas. Demand can be suppressed in two contrasting ways. First the use of migrant smuggling services can be rendered needless by providing prospective clients with alternative means for reaching their objectives. Second, the use of migrant smuggling services can be rendered futile by removing the benefits of being smuggled. The latter strategy can have worrying humanitarian implications. Strategies for countering migrant smuggling have diverse consequences—beyond being more or less effective in reducing the volume of smuggling. A particular concern is that counter-smuggling measures can increase the vulnerability of smuggled migrants. Counter-smuggling measures should therefore not assume that if smuggling is repressed, then its undesirable consequences will also vanish.

Full text on publisher's web site (Open Access)


Jørgen Carling

Jørgen Carling

Research Professor

Research Groups