Skip to main content

The heterogeneity of human smugglers: a reflection on the use of concepts in studies on the smuggling of migrants

Abstract

The use of a broad conceptualization of human smugglers fosters their stereotypical representation. Moreover, the lack of attention to the heterogeneity of smugglers, to their purposes, methods, and organisational choices, leads to the design of unfair and ineffective migration policies. Relying on previous empirical studies on human smuggling and other officially documented instances of the smuggling of migrants, this study investigates the heterogeneity of migrant smugglers and their activities with respect to six dimensions: target/victim, purpose, geopolitical scope, intensity, operational scale, organisation. The results confirm that it is misleading to provide one single definition of a human smuggler; on the contrary, different characterizations exist. In marked contrast to the public conception of human smugglers, they are often motivated by empathy, are active for short periods, and coordinate themselves through loose local networks. Nonetheless, the evidence indicates that there are also profit-oriented groups stably conducting large-scale operations that may end in the victimization of the migrants. The adoption of a vocabulary able to account for the diverse characteristics of human smugglers is recommended in the academic, political and policy debate.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alberto Aziani.

Ethics declarations

Research involving human participants and/or animals

The research behind this paper involved neither human participants nor animals.

Informed consent

The research behind this paper involved neither human participants nor animals.

Conflicts of interest

In accordance with Springer policy and my ethical obligation as a researcher, I hereby declare that I have neither a financial interest in, nor receive funding from, any company or institution that may be affected by the research reported in the enclosed paper.

Additional information

Publisher's note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Aziani, A. The heterogeneity of human smugglers: a reflection on the use of concepts in studies on the smuggling of migrants. Trends Organ Crim (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-021-09435-w

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-021-09435-w

Keywords

  • Securitisation
  • Irregular migration
  • Organised crime
  • Human smuggling
  • Migration facilitator
  • Professional smuggler