People smuggling, also referred to as the smuggling of migrants, refers to the facilitated, illegal movement of people across borders.

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Across the world, countries are facing a growing scale and complexity of irregular migration challenges – in response to external pressures linked to humanitarian disasters, conflict and political instability, and economic inequality.

Migrant smugglers facilitate other people’s illegal entry into a foreign country by various methods, for example, by producing, procuring, providing, or possessing fraudulent travel or identity documents, bribing officials, and by arranging transport to secretly cross an international border.

Complex criminal networks take advantage of those seeking opportunities and a better life, charging high prices for dangerous and illegal journeys, with migrants extremely vulnerable to other forms of crime including trafficking.

The Bali Process’ role in strengthening cooperation and dialogue across Member States to tackle criminal activity and reach, uphold migrant rights and support registration and integration, and to reduce migrant exploitation is more important than ever.

What is the extent of the problem?

People smuggling occurs in all regions of the world. There are no reliable global statistics on the number of migrants smuggled due to major challenges such as the hidden nature of the problem and the lack of established data recording systems.

Response is also hampered because it is often misidentified as a migration-related offence. Smuggling of migrants is often conflated with trafficking in persons, which is a distinct though sometimes related crime captured in a separate instrument.

©Jo Aigner

What do we know?

  • People smuggling is a deadly business. Thousands of people have been placed in inhumane and life-threatening circumstances and have lost their lives because of reckless and harmful actions of smugglers.
  • It is a highly profitable business in which criminals are at low risk of detection and punishment. Consequently, the crime is increasingly attractive and smugglers are becoming more organised.
  • Routes and methods are altered in response to changing border controls and circumstances, and often at the expense of the safety of smuggled migrants.
  • Criminals are increasingly providing smuggling services to irregular migrants to evade border controls, migration regulations, and visa requirements. As orderly migration policies become more restrictive, migrants become more and more attracted to the services offered by smugglers. Asylum seekers in search of safety and protection may choose to rely on the services of migrant smugglers.
  • People smuggling challenges the capacity of Member States to manage their borders and safeguard their sovereignty.
  • Migrant smuggling, and the vulnerabilities it creates, can be a significant factor fuelling trafficking in persons.

For States to effectively stop organised migrant smuggling activities, it is essential to criminalise people smuggling in domestic legislation, in accordance with international legal obligations.

Resources for states, policy makers and practitioners

Resources for states, policy makers and practitioners

The Regional Support Office of the Bali Process (RSO) develops resources such as guides, policy papers, thematic briefs, and training materials to support knowledge and capacity building across Bali Process Members to address people smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crime, and facilitate the sharing of information and best practices from the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

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