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Countering human smuggling: No silver bullet for safer mobility

New DRC-MMC position paper offers evidence-based recommendations towards a protection-sensitive approach to actions against human smuggling.

Jan Grarup

Posted on 07 Jul 2021

The “fight against smuggling” is a key priority for the EU and its member states in their efforts towards achieving more orderly migration. The EU approach is based on increased and intensified cooperation with third countries. Targeted “counter migrant smuggling partnerships” with countries of origin and transit will focus on disrupting cross-border criminal smuggling networks and strengthening law enforcement and operational capacity of partner countries with the view to prevent irregular departures.

Countering human smuggling is often portrayed as the silver bullet to end movements through irregular pathways and presented as the key remedy for addressing human rights abuses along migratory routes. Actions against human smuggling, however, not only affect the ability of and the conditions under which criminal smuggling networks and facilitators operate, but have both direct and indirect impact on the safety, security, and rights of people on the move. Building a protection-sensitive approach to actions against human smuggling must consider the potential adverse human rights effects and rely on data and evidence, including listening to the voices of those directly affected by the policies.

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) are uniquely placed to provide recommendations towards a more protection-sensitive approach to actions against human smuggling grounded in evidence and based on operational reality.DRC is in direct contact with communities along key migratory routes implementing humanitarian and development programs, while MMC carries out research and analysis drawing on comprehensive primary data collected directly from refugees and migrants on the move as well as from smugglers themselves through the vast 4Mi network.

DRC and MMC urge the EU and Member States to consider the following five key recommendations in their actions against human smuggling:

  1. Place protection, dignity, safety and rights of refugees and migrants at the core of anti-smuggling policies and practices and address the harmful effects of anti-smuggling measures;
  2. Ensure accountability for all actors involved in human rights violations in the context of human smuggling, including state officials;
  3. Translate commitments to enhance safe, regular and accessible pathways into action;
  4. Apply a nuanced narrative and policy approach to account for the different profiles of people engaged in facilitating irregular movements;
  5. Explore and document the unintended protection implications of anti-smuggling measures and base policy responses on evidence.

See the full DRC-MMC position paper here.

Find more resources on human smuggling on MMC’s website here.

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