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The migrant smuggling phenomenon

Nowadays, a great number of smuggling victims are migrants. The legal passage from one country to another is subject to difficult conditions, which favors the smuggling of migrants.





What is the difference between human trafficking and migrant smuggling ?


Human trafficking : the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by the means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

Smuggling : crime involving the procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident.






In 2016, at least 2,5 millions of migrants were smuggled generating nearly $7 billion for smugglers (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).


Vulnerability of migrants


The victims of smuggling find themselves in situations of great vulnerability ( debt to the smuggler, economic and social distress, etc.).


Migrants are often far from home and in a country where they have never been and do not know anyone. It is therefore an important cause of vulnerability for migrants in an irregular situation. Furthermore, many of them do not know the language and cultural habits of the transit and destination countries.


The smugglers with whom these migrants are linked can exploit this vulnerability for the purpose of trafficking. The dependence of migrants on smugglers greatly increases the risk of abuse.


Violence and other crimes may be committed against smuggled migrants.


-> Violences, summary executions, sexual abuse, forced labour, domestic servitude, slavery, torture...


Factors determining the demand for smuggling :

  • Need to migrate due to armed conflict, political circumstances, persecution

  • Mobility regulations and restrictions

  • Smuggler’s recruitment, community pressure

  • economic reasons

  • expensive and lengthy procedures to obtain regular travel documents

  • marketing and misinformation by smugglers


Services supplied by smugglers :

  • Transportation, guiding and escorting during irregular border crossing

  • Accommodation along the route

  • Information

  • Corruption

  • Travel documents (counterfeit, false, fraudulently obtained)


Source : UNODC

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