The smuggling of migrants—or people smuggling as it is sometimes referred to—is a prominent and contentious issue around the world.
Migrant smuggling involves the ‘procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a country of which the person is not a national or a permanent residence’ (Article 3(a) of the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air).
Virtually every country in the world is affected by the smuggling of migrants, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination. Restrictions placed on the free movements of people play into the hands of migrant smugglers who exploit differences in national laws and legal systems. Taking advantage of those willing or forced to migrate, migrant smugglers create illegal ways of migration by using covert and overt methods to transport people, supplying false documents, or harbouring irregular migrants. During their journeys smuggled migrants are often vulnerable to life-threatening risks and exploitation. Thousands of people have suffocated in containers, perished in deserts, or drowned at sea.
Migrant smuggling has become a major issue in domestic politics, international relations, and criminal justice. Behind the media hype and political rhetoric lies a complex and dynamic process that plays a crucial role in irregular migration between specific countries, across regions, and around the world. Sending, transit, and destination countries face numerous challenges from the smuggling of migrants. In responding to this transnational crime, governments must effectively target those who seek to profit from circumventing immigration controls while recognising that smuggled migrants are often placed in situations of serious vulnerability.