Migrant Smuggling Data and Research

A Global Review of the Emerging Evidence Base

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The report shows that important research has been undertaken on the transnational crime aspects of migrant smuggling, including on routes, smuggling organizations (such as criminal networking and facilitation), smuggler profiles and fees/payment. Likewise, there is an emerging academic literature on migrant smuggling, particularly the economic and social processes involved in smuggling, which has largely been based on small-scale qualitative research, mostly undertaken by early career researchers. Contributions from private research companies, as well as investigative journalists, have provided useful insights in some regions, helping to shed light on smuggling practices. There remains, however, sizeable gaps in migration policy research and data, particularly in relation to migration patterns and processes linked to migrant smuggling, including its impact on migrants (particularly vulnerability, abuse and exploitation), as well as its impact on irregular migration flows (such as increasing scale, diversity and changes in geography). Addressing these systemic and regional gaps in data and research would help deepen understanding of the smuggling phenomenon, and provide further insights into how responses can be formulated that better protect migrants while enhancing States’ abilities to manage orderly migration.




Since the 1980s, irregular migration to Europe has rapidly expanded. The perceived economic advantages, particularly in Western European countries, large-scale conflicts in Asia and the Middle East, the effects of global poverty especially in the south but also increasingly restrictive migration policies barring access to the labour market are some of the many converging factors behind the growth of this rather complex phenomenon. Over the past few years, the political turmoil in the Arab world and in particular the ongoing crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic have further exacerbated the number of undocumented migrants reaching Europe (Triandafyllidou and Maroukis, 2012; Shelley, 2014; Kuschminder, de Bresser and Siegel, 2015; McAuliffe, 2013; Salt, 2000). According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in 2015, over 1 million irregular migrants and refugees arrived in Europe (IOM, 2015) from developing countries in Africa and Asia – the highest migration flow since the Second World War. Frontex, the European Agency for the Management of the European Union’s External Borders reported an unprecedented number of over 1.5 million irregular border crossings, the overwhelming majority of which took place at the Greek–Turkish sea border (Frontex, 2016a). In response to these developments, countries in Europe have kept their eyes fixed on their borders; managing the growing numbers of migrants entering into the continent and discouraging the influx of irregular flows has nowadays evolved into a primary policy objective (Fargues and Fandrich, 2012; Fargues, 2014).


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