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.




The smuggling of migrants across international borders on routes traversing land, air and sea continues to undermine migration governance and impedes safe and orderly migration. In numerous parts of the world, migrant smugglers have become an integral part of the irregular migration journey, resulting in enormous profits for criminal smuggling networks while reducing the ability of States to manage their borders and migration programmes. Given that it is often covert in nature, migrant smuggling may only become visible when tragedies occur or emergency humanitarian responses are required. Events involving people drowning or perishing inside trucks regularly capture the media’s attention, but these tragedies are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. Reliance on smugglers makes migrants particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Migrants who have experienced abuse by smugglers have little effective recourse to justice. In this ever more pressing situation, States are being severely tested in the fulfilment of their responsibilities to protect migrants’ human rights and manage their borders.


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