This module is a resource for lecturers  


Humanitarianism, security and migrant smuggling


The term 'humanitarianism' (not to be confused with the 'humanitarian exemption' as addressed in Module 1) has been interpreted in different ways. Some see it as limited to saving lives and providing immediate relief to those suffering in situations of emergency. Others see it as the enhancement and protection of human rights (Cuttitta, 2017). Others, still, adopt a broader perspective that encompasses promoting the well-being of humankind. Whether or not humanitarianism is seen through a broader or narrower prism, human rights are inextricably connected to humanitarian approaches. For additional details on some interpretations of humanitarianism, see Box 13.

What place does humanitarianism, and its intrinsic focus on human rights, have in the response to migrant smuggling? There has been a tendency on the part of States to argue that humanitarian responses to smuggling act as pull factor. For example, it has been argued that maritime operations to save migrants at sea encourage smugglers to send migrants, with the promise that they will be apprehended and brought to their intended destination. The availability of rights-focused reception mechanisms for smuggled migrants, including availability of asylum processes, may have a similar effect. In response, and out of a desire to deter migrant smuggling, States have tended to reinforce, and even externalize, their border controls, to prevent irregular migrants entering their territories and engaging their human rights obligations.  

As noted in the first sections of this Module, these approaches are not necessarily effective in reducing smuggling of migrants. They may also harm individuals wishing or attempting to migrate irregularly by using the services of migrant smugglers and may deny them fundamental human rights. The fight against migrant smuggling should not be exclusively considered as a law enforcement matter as, otherwise, anti-migrant smuggling initiatives risk being ineffective, counterproductive and contrary to States' international obligations. As highlighted in Module 4, security-based approaches are only one component of a robust overall strategy to combat and suppress migrant smuggling (IOM, 2017).

Nonetheless, balancing humanitarian and security focused approaches to migrant smuggling is difficult and there is often no clear solution. While it is desirable that States fully respect human rights, including those owed to smuggled migrants (see Module 2), it is difficult to do so without compromising effective action against migrant smuggling (Gallagher and Carling, 2017). The complexity of interests, rights, obligations and motivations at stake further highlights the need for comprehensive, multidisciplinary and holistic strategies to effectively address migrant smuggling, with an emphasis on preventing the crime through addressing root causes and opening legal avenues of migration.

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