In the last few months, European and American audiences have witnessed multiple examples of the criminalization of the activities of NGOs in the Mediterranean and the US-Mexico border as migrant smuggling. Many of those targeted have rejected the claims, and most specifically, the ones labeling them as ‘smugglers.' This is not hard to explain. The very mention of the term smuggling generates a very specific range of notions–most of them criminal and tragic—while ‘smugglers’ occupy a special place in the list of contemporary organized criminal predators.
It may come as a surprise that empirical knowledge on the series of activities legally defined as migrant smuggling, and more specifically, on the people who facilitate migrants’ irregular journeys is limited at best, despite being essential elements of the ways we think about irregular migration worldwide.
This lecture, drawing from empirical work with migrants and the facilitators of their journeys on both the US Mexico border and North Africa, will ask: How has migrant smuggling been constructed in the context of humanitarianism? What does the widespread distaste for ‘smugglers’ reveal? And most importantly, who are the people behind migrants’ journeys, and why does examining the way they become ‘smugglers’ matter?
Gabriella Sanchez is the lead of Migrant Smuggling Research the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute in Florence. With a background in law enforcement, she is the author of Human Smuggling and Border Crossings (Routledge 2016) and co-editor alongside Sheldon Zhang and Luigi Achilli of Crimes of Solidarity in Mobility: Alternative Views on Migrant Smuggling (2018), a special issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.