Human Smuggling

Human Smuggling

In this article, we shall discuss human smuggling in international relations. We shall define human smuggling, discuss how and why human smuggling takes place, as well as discuss the various approaches and techniques that police, as well as states have used to prevent human smuggling from taking place. Then, at the end of the article, we have linked to various scholarly books on human trafficking, as well as included the list of references.

Human Smuggling Definition

Human smuggling is defined as “the importation of people into a country via the deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This includes bringing illegal aliens into a country, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of aliens already in a country illegally” (United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 2014).

Human smuggling has been viewed as a separate issue from human trafficking, and many entities have tried to enforce the importance of this difference (Salt, 2000). Regarding the issue of human smuggling and human trafficking, John Salt (2000) explains that 

“The main basis for the dichotomy is linked to the purpose of trafficking and the concept of exploitation. This difference has been well expressed in a recent paper by Grayear (1999) who suggests that smuggling is clearly concerned with the manner in which a person enters a country, and with the involvement of third parties who assist him/her to achieve entry. Trafficking is a more complicated concept, in that it requires consideration not only of the manner in which a migrant entered the country but also his/her working conditions and whether he/she consented to the irregular entry and/or those working conditions. Trafficking and more voluntary forms of undocumented migration are best though of as a continuum, with room for considerable variation between the extremes. It is frequently difficult to establish whether there were elements of deception and/or coercion, and whether these were sufficient to elevate the situation from one of voluntary undocumented migration, to trafficking” (33-34).

When looking at human smuggling, it is evident that it has taken place for centuries (with many pointing out that human smuggling existed in early human history). Human smuggling is viewed as “a global problem which affects a complex matrix of origin, transit and destination countries, their international relations and security and their economies” (Salt, 2000: 32). And with the recent economic downturn–with labor being less in demand, individuals are trying to find ways to work. And thus, “desperate people continue to be smuggled to areas where they perceive economic and social opportunities” (Payne, 2013: 261). Often the conditions in the country of origin are poor, leading individuals to want to migrant to another country (Salt, 2000). Furthermore, human smuggling also happens “because the possibilities for regular migration have declined, as more stringent entry controls force migrants into using illegal channels” (Salt, 2000: 32), whereas others have suggested “that lax entry controls have made it easier for trafficking to thrive, because anti-trafficking legislation is scarce and enforcement is frequently weak” (Salt, 2000: 32).

Individuals who are looking to migrate will often pay another individual–or a criminal group, to smuggle them from one country to the next. In the case of China, “Chinese migrants pay smugglers between $30,000 and $60,000 to be transported to Europe, the United States, and Canada…Often, they pay an initial 10 percent of the smuggling cost, and relatives pay the rest once the migrants arrive at their destinations” (Payne, 2013: 262, who cites Andreas & Greenhill (2010)).

These same individuals who are smuggled often face dire conditions. Many of them are in very tight places, with many other individuals who are being smuggled. And thus, they may not have access to food or water. Furthermore, those in the human smuggling may have to go hundreds or thousands of miles, and if it is across terrain such as a desert, not having adequate water can lead to dehydration and/or death, as was the case of nineteen migrants in 2003, who were coming from Mexico to the United States (Payne, 2013). Furthermore, many migrants are targets for criminal gangs who either charge them high fees to be smuggled, or they are venerable to these groups, who may want to exploit these individuals.

Government Actions Against Human Smuggling

Governments throughout the world have taken a number of approaches against human smuggling. In the United States, one of the primary entities working to prevent human smuggling is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE carries out a number of actions to stop human smuggling. For example, “ICE pursues intelligence-driven investigations to target large-scale smuggling organizations regardless of where they operate. Particular emphasis is placed on smuggling rings that pose a national security risk, jeopardize lives or engage in violence, abuse, hostage-taking or extortion” (United States ICE, 2014). In addition, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency also “ coordinates with partners at U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ensure aggressive investigation and prosecution of smuggling cases along the border.” In addition, “ICE targets all links in the smuggling chain, beyond the immediate smugglers. For example, ICE seeks to target the overseas recruiters and organizers, the fraudulent document vendors, and the transportation and employment networks that benefit from alien smuggling within the United States” (US ICE, 2014).  Lastly, such organizations will often use the law to penalize smugglers (United States ICE, 2014).


Scholarly Books on Human Smuggling

David Kyle & Rey Koslowski (Editors), Global Human Smuggling: Comparative Perspectives


Anne T. Gallagher & Fiona David, The International Law of Migrant Smuggling


Anna Triandafyllidou & Thanos Maroukis, Migrant Smuggling: Irregular Migration from Asia and Africa to Europe (Migration, Diasporas and Citizenship).  



Andreas, P. & Greenhill, K. (2010). Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts, Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press. 

Payne, R. (2013). Global Issues, New York, New York, Pearson.

Salt, J. (2000). Trafficking and Human Smuggling: A European Perspective. International Migration, Special Issue, 2000/1, pages 31-56. Available Online:

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (2014). Human Smuggling. Available Online:

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