Migrant smuggling

Authored by: Anna Triandafyllidou

Routledge Handbook of Immigration and Refugee Studies

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9781138794313
eBook ISBN: 9781315759302
Adobe ISBN: 9781317638773


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The United Nations has estimated that globally there are approximately 30 to 40 million irregular migrants, a number that amounts to 15 to 20 per cent of all international migrants (ICHRP 2010: 13; estimation refers to 2003). Naturally, this is just an estimate. Data on undocumented migrants are usually derived from national censuses that although they comprehensively count both legal and irregular migrants, they are not likely to capture the total size of the irregular migration, as undocumented residents tend to hide from census interviewers for fear of detection. For the European Union, the CLANDESTINO Project in 2008 produced a scientifically rigorous calculation estimating irregular migrant residents in the 27 member states of the EU at 1.9 to 3.8 million (Vogel 2009) in a total of approximately 498 million inhabitants 1 in the EU that comes to below 1 per cent of the total population. Undocumented migrants in the USA were estimated at 11 million in 2014 (accounting for approx. 3 per cent of the total US population), while Koser (2007: 57–9) suggested that the percentage of irregular migration among total movements in Asia and Latin America might be above 50 per cent. Of course, not all undocumented migrants have been smuggled into a country. The data given above are meant to put the discussion of migrant smuggling into its global context. This chapter discusses the official definition of migrant smuggling provided by the UN, the ways in which migrant smuggling is intertwined with irregular migration, asylum seeking and trafficking in human beings, while also being a distinct phenomenon. It finally discusses two different analytical perspectives proposed in the literature to make sense of migrant smuggling, notably the view of smuggling as a business and migrant smuggling as a social process with important ramifications in societies of origin, transit and destination.

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