Wondering how counter-smuggling operations impact the safety of migrants and the local dynamics of mobility? Find out by watching the full webinar.


Migrant smuggling—the facilitation for profit of the entry of a person into a country other than their own—is at the core of the discourse worldwide on irregular migration, migration controls, and border security. The term ‘smuggling’, along with specific claims about its nature, has long been invoked by countries concerned about the presence of irregular migrants.  It is routine to characterize smuggling as managed by complex and cruel criminal organizations that garner staggering profits from their illegal actions. Recently, however, empirical work from several migration corridors has called into question many of these generalizations about sophisticated smuggling operations, calling for a more nuanced and bottom-up understanding of the facilitation of irregular migration. 

Although this empirical work has provided important and useful insights into the complexities of smuggling, it has neglected the impact of counter-smuggling measures on irregular migration. Counter-smuggling programs have become ubiquitous and often take the form of externalizing border controls through agreements with countries of transit. To fully understand irregular migration, we must consider the effects of counter-smuggling measures on migration patterns, on the migrants themselves, and on the societies from which they come and to which they travel. Efforts to control the smuggling services that are relied upon by many migrants can bring their own harms. The case studies now available suggest that criminalizing certain forms of migration and associated facilitation services by labelling them as ‘smuggling’ perversely fosters rather than contains clandestine mobility and exacerbates migrant victimization. Furthermore, counter-smuggling initiatives seem to create new, informal but consequential policing interactions among citizens as the responsibility to “detect” migrants travelling irregularly is extended to include bus drivers, shopkeepers, hotel owners, and ordinary citizens. 

In this webinar, we draw from examples in Europe, North Africa and the Americas to shed light on the effects of counter-smuggling operations on the safety of migrants and on the local dynamics of mobility.  


  • Gabriella Sanchez, University of Massachusetts - Lowell
  • Lina Vosyliute, Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels
  • Kheira Arrouche, University of Leeds


  • Howard Duncan (Carleton University, Ottawa) 
  • Jan Rath (Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS), Amsterdam, and Erasmus University Rotterdam)
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