This essay will look at how people smuggling and illegal immigration have evolved through time and how and what policymakers have and should do as a response. People smuggling is the act of assisting individuals to cross international borders without official authorization in return for compensation that is either financial or material (Hidalgo, 2016). This essay will look to examine why this is considered an international crime, the reasons behind the motives of both migrants and people smugglers as well as the consequences of this form of migration. The contrast will also be shown between what is perceived as ethical smuggling as well as exploratory smuggling and how international policies along with specifically Australia have framed their legislations in their attempts to prevent illegal people smuggling and immigration. Recommendations will also be highlighted based on the literature cited throughout in order to address how policymakers can frame new policies and procedures that can effectively combat the issue of illegal people smuggling.
There have also been studies in which the incentives to the illegal smuggling of people have been prevalent for organized crime groups. Research has shown that these groups frame their facilitation of this act as a business and often have a well-structured business model. This can also include combining people smuggling with other illegal trade such as drugs and/ or arms trading, however, this is not always the case. These business models are mostly based upon supply and demand with the aims of high profits and low risks as well as the involvement of a number of ‘staff’ who carry out different roles within the process (Interpol. int, 2019). These roles include recruiters, boat captains, and crew members, people who can provide illegal documentation, and those who can provide accommodation along the journey if needed. Interpol has recognized that these organized crime groups have identified weak legislation and use this to their advantage when seeking ways in which they are able to dodge persecution as a result of these loopholes (Interpol. int, 2019).
In recent years there has been a population increase due to globalization, this has been especially significant in underdeveloped countries, this has led to an increased interest in migrating. However in contrast this surge of migration has also seen a reduction in legal opportunities for migration in many countries (Australian institute of criminology, 2001). This reduction is largely due to research that suggests that this demand for migration especially illegally has opened opportunities for both opportunistic criminals as well as organized crime networks to exploit vulnerable individuals for their own profit as well as fears they are using this act to transport other illegal substances such as drugs and weapons (Australian institute of criminology, 2001). Research by Zhang, Sanchez, and Achilli, (2018) looks at the juxtaposition of people smuggling as an organized crime and people smuggling out of necessity as well as how governments shape the perception of the act. The authors challenge the accounts by governments that the increased numbers of people smuggling to western countries are the responsibility of illicit business networks or criminal gangs. The authors challenge this by presenting research that shows that in many cases migrants obtain smuggling services through their community and often through family and friends. This way the chances of the trip being successful, as well as their human rights being upheld, is increased and more likely than if it was organized by opportunistic criminals (Zhang, Sanchez, and Achilli, 2018). The framing of this act by Western governments has developed the public perception of the brutalities and vulnerability of migrants as the result of criminal activity legislation has been introduced for that purpose. However, although this perception has been challenged through countless literature there have also been articles that look to highlight and explain how organized crime groups are using illegal migration through people smuggling to their advantage. People smuggling is also becoming the only option readily available to migrants fleeing their origin country in order to escape events such as war, persecution, poverty, and natural disasters. The case of Mr. Hadi Ahmadi is an example of how some smugglers become involved in such activities out of compassion and a sense of duty to people within their community who need help (Schloenhardt and Martin, 2012). Mr. Ahmadi, facilitated the smuggling of 911 asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia as he believed that they were facing persecution or death as a result of staying in their country of origin (Schloenhardt and Martin, 2012).
However on the other hand there are smugglers who are simply in it in order to seek a profit, these cases often result in the exploitation of vulnerable asylum seekers. The power that people smugglers have over migrants is tremendous once the journey has begun and it is because of this that maltreatment occurs to those being smuggled. These mistreatments happen during the process and can include the removal of personal belongings including identification, poor conditions in which they are transported for example small fishing vessels and also being subject to violent abuse (Unodc.org, 2019). However, these exploratory methods have also been seen to have an impact on the families of the migrants who were not even on the journey to seek asylum. This can be seen through blackmailing or debt bondage leading families to feel threatened to pay off large debt or otherwise risk violence or their family members being deported (Unodc.org, 2019). Along with these risks, there is also the risk of never making it to their destination, since 2014 there have been 4000 reported fatalities annually on a global scale, however, it is also evident that there may be many more that are unrecorded (Migration data portal, 2019).
In response to the increased immigration rates, Western international organizations have attempted to address the issue of illegal people smuggling. The UN Convention against transnational organized crime was created in 2004 and has the support of 141 countries. As defined by the UN people smuggling or smuggling of migrants as “the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or another material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a state party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident” (Chonghaile, 2019). The agreed-upon protocol of this convention is that that criminalization should only be considered as a penalty to the smugglers and not the migrants as well as a heavy emphasis on the protection of the human rights of the migrants (Chonghaile, 2019). In legislation people, smuggling emphasizes the illegal crossing of national borders in return for a profit (Australian institute of criminology 200). Australia itself has attempted to take on an international approach to people smuggling through the use of technological advances, intelligence sharing, and participation in a number of international forums in their attempt at addressing illegal people smuggling (Australian Federal Police. 2019). Interestingly Australian policies do not address the act of people smuggling for profit as the main crime but instead look at the crime of anyone who crosses the border without legal authorization. This can be seen in Australian policy in Sections 233, 233A, 234, 235, and 236 relating to harboring illegal entrants, using fraudulent documents in connection with the entry, and other offenses. The above offenses within legislation do not involve any component of profit by the facilitators of people smuggling but rather recognizes the real crime as knowingly organizing assisting the crossing of national borders without the legal rights to do so (Australian institute of criminology, 2001). Australia has also introduced a number of initiatives that have proven to make a difference in both preventing and catching people smugglers (Munro, 2011). These include the establishment of the Australian Federal Police Transnational Crime Centres which are located in both key transit and sending countries, the formation of a Joint approach with Australian Federal Police working along with Immigration and people-smuggling strike teams, the formation of initiatives targeted at a regional capacity that assist police and immigration agencies in especially in Southeast Asia to combat the act as well as increasing support of regional governments to develop anti-people-smuggling legislation (Munro, 2011). However, despite the implemented policies and challenges from law enforcement, pressure and competition from other criminal groups, and the natural and social environment under which organized crime groups operate people smuggling within they are still remaining to prove both increasingly adaptable and resilient to these setbacks. People smugglers are finding ways in which they can get past Australia’s harsh penalties, for example, the use of escort vessels that take the migrants across the border while organizers turn back in the original vessel (Barker, 2013). Another example of their adaptability is their use of minors to smuggle people across borders, this is due to Australia’s policies differing when dealing with minors and therefore the penalty is usually the returning of the minor to their country of origin which often does not lead to persecution (Barker, 2013).
However, criminologists have identified that present policies do not always properly address people smuggling in response to migration due to a number of factors that are present. These include the relationship present between migration policies in contrast to the contexts in which individuals choose to migrate, the role of the media on public perception and policy development, the process of migration agencies in contrast to people smugglers (Guia and Skilbrei, 2019). These considerations further include the link between migrants committing or being subject to crime as a result of debates and fears surrounding migration and also how this overall impacts the perception of societies towards migrants and foreigners alike (Guia and Skilbrei, 2019). It is because of this that Western countries in today’s world are finding it difficult or possibly not fully grasping how their policies and procedures could make an effective impact on both increasing the safety and wellbeing of people simply wishing to migrate out of fear of their safety; as well as realizing how this would reduce both illegal migrations along with the incentives and potential profit-making for both crime groups and opportunistic criminals to find business out of this act.
A number of large international organizations such as the United Nations have attempted to advocate for legislation that aims to look at improving existing policies through the cooperation of member states (Zhang, Sanchez, and Achilli, 2018). The central responsibility for the increase of illegal immigration emphasizes the importance of combatting smuggling organizations (Zhang, Sanchez, and Achilli, 2018). A study by Munro, (2011) attempts to address how policymakers should look at how and why some organized crime organizations have become so resilient in their efforts to smuggle individuals illegally into Australia. The author suggests that using existing law enforcement in conjunction with the law enforcement within countries in which a large number of crime organizations facilitating illegal people smuggling (Munro, 2011). In contrast research by Ventrella, M. (2016) suggests that policies should take a more supportive approach to the victims of these crimes, for example, assisting migrants whether smuggled or not to integrate into the country in which they have migrated to. The attempted result of this approach is to provide a supportive environment for new migrants who in return may cooperate with law enforcement by providing information that could be useful in the prevention of illegal smuggling (Ventrella, M. 2016). Due to the evidential resiliency of organized crime groups that facilitate people smuggling, research by Munro, (2011) has suggested that criminal networks should be subject to persistent external shocks that impede on their functioning in order to disrupt both their markets. This results in deterring potential ‘clients’ from pursuing their business as well as limiting their ability to trade (Munro, 2011). The author has also identified that a major factor that has led to the flourishing of people smuggling in this case from Indonesia to Australia is the lack of knowledge that local officials and communities had on this issue as a transnational crime (Munro, 2011). This resulted in a lower level of concern from countries who didn’t see the action as a serious issue which in return lead to communities openly assisting people smugglers providing them with support and therefore making the process easier (Munro, 2011).
In conclusion, a number of factors should be considered when looking at people smuggling and illegal immigration. These factors include the reasoning for both the migrants and the people smugglers for committing the act including how each of these different scenarios can be prevented through the introduction of appropriate policies. The literature above portrays the different criminological understanding of both why migrants are becoming more reliant on illegal immigration as well as the incentives that are present for those facilitating the smuggling of people across borders as well as the incentives present for those seeking to be smuggled. Although there have been a number of efforts implemented on a global scale, research shows that this is making little impact on the combating of illegal people smuggling, especially in the case of organized crime. The resilience of these organizations is becoming more apparent and a persistent and international united effort where all available resources are being used including the cooperation of countries from which illegal people smuggling is present in both sending and receiving migrants is important to the prevention of the crime. It is also evident that the limited legal opportunities for people to migrate to another country are another factor in which is steering individuals to traveling illegally. Western governments that can afford this protection to vulnerable migrants should consider introducing better processes in which at-risk migrants can easily access and obtain legally.