Anti-migrant Smuggling Policy Options for the European Commission


On 28 October, Rule of Law Program Researcher Jill Coster van Voorhout participated in an expert roundtable focused on preventing and combating the smuggling of migrants (Directive2002/90/EC and Framework Decision2002/946/JHA). The roundtable, convened in Brussels by ICF International, discussed policy options for the European Commission (EC). “I had the distinct pleasure of influencing policy quite directly by contributing to this roundtable”, she said.

Migration is one of the positive by-products of globalization, driving human progress and development while helping to provide refuge to individuals who are fleeing natural disaster or conflict. Yet the exploitation of movement of persons by profit-seeking migrant smugglers represents a darker side of migration.

Migrant smuggling is multi-faceted, so that also any policy to prevent and combat this crime will have to be interdisciplinary. For one, an anti-migrant smuggling policy will have to be adaptable to the different forms of migrant smuggling in different parts of the EU and the world. Smugglers are often quick to find loopholes in laws and policies and are not constrained by the regulations that states have to abide by under their obligations to protect their citizens at home and abroad and other people within their jurisdiction.

Migrant smuggling policies also have to be comprehensive. They cannot focus on only strengthening border control, for instance, because smugglers can then resort to other services that facilitate irregular migration.

Also, these policies will have to rest on a proper system of sufficient sharing of information by countries of origin, transit and destination. Otherwise, smugglers can easily take advantage of the weak criminal justice responses in some states to forge new routes that enable them to commit their crimes.

As a last component, where migrant smuggling cannot be prevented, the rights of the identified smuggled migrants must be protected. In this regard, the fact that an individual has consented to being smuggled does not mean that he has necessarily consented to the treatment he receives throughout the process. This is also how migrant smuggling can be closely connected to human trafficking, the other crime that is part of the Rule of Law Program’s work on ‘orphan’ crimes. Smuggled migrants are vulnerable to exploitation, with many beginning their journey as smuggled migrants ending up as victims of human trafficking.

The Hague Institute for Global Justice continues to work on migrant smuggling, because it is a crime that affects almost every country in the world, undermines the integrity of countries and communities, and costs thousands of people their lives every year. Nonetheless, it does not always get the attention that is needed, which is one of the reasons why the Institute labelled it an ‘orphan’ crime.

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