Combatting Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling in intra-Schengen Border Areas

Enhancing compassion by uncovering the fifty shades of grey.

Since the start of the Schengen Agreement the right to free movement of people in the Schengen area is a source of both challenges and opportunities. This socio-legal research project addresses the blurring of boundaries between the phenomena of human smuggling and human trafficking. To which extent is this distinction accurate in practice? Does such a dichotomy help in raising awareness and compassion of the different forms of human smuggling an human trafficking? The research will be focused on how both phenomena are dealt with and perceived in the context of intra-Schengen cross-border mobility, more specifically in the Spanish/French and French/Belgian border regions.

Duration2018-2020
FundingNational Dutch Police
Main organizationVan Vollenhoven Institute, Leiden University

Research Question

To what extent are, can, and should, human trafficking and human smuggling be(ing) seen as interlinked phenomena? What are the consequences of seeing the phenomena as either distinct or interlinked for the way in which migrants crossing intra-Schengen borders are treated.

Project Description

French Spanish Border Crossing Wikimedia
French-Spanish border crossing - Maarten Sepp [CC BY-SA 3.0] / Wikimedia

The right to free movement in the Schengen area is a source of both challenges and opportunities. Whereas it can enhance economic collaboration between countries due to the mobility of goods, people and services, European members states also face the challenge of transnational crime as a result of that same mobility. Concerns about mobility have been present from the very start of the Schengen Agreement, with countries being weary of unwanted individuals whether it be irregular migrants or criminals. Whereas these concerns are referring to two different and separate phenomena, migration and crime, over the years, the two discourses and concerns seem to have merged as a result of the growing securitization and politicization of crime and migration, not in the least sparked by several terrorist attacks in Europe.

Many scholars have written about the merger of concerns about crime and concerns about migration and, in doing so, on the different consequences of  the blurring of boundaries between crime control and migration control for individuals in their encounters with law enforcement officials.

This research also addresses the blurring of boundaries: between human smuggling and human trafficking.  While human trafficking and smuggling are often considered and treated as distinct phenomena, it is crucial to research the extent to which this distinction turns out to be accurate in practice, and to research the impact of this perceived dichotomy on law enforcement practices and those who are subjected to these practices. Is such a dichotomy productive or rather unproductive in raising awareness and compassion of the different forms of human smuggling an human trafficking?  The research will be focused on how both phenomena are dealt with and perceived in the context of intra-Schengen cross-border mobility, more specifically in the Spanish/French and French/Belgian border regions.

The West-Mediterranean route is increasingly chosen by migrants wanting to join Europe to pursue their journey northwards. As a consequence, EU Member States such as Spain, France and Belgium have to deal with complex and intense migration flows. In the context of (irregular) migration, migrants have a particularly vulnerable position and become easily clients of choice for smugglers and traffickers. As it was highlighted by a growing body of scholarship and the European Commission, smuggling and trafficking, although distinct phenomena on paper, can in practice meet at precise places in a migrant’s journey, either via the route or the intermediary involved. The lack of scientific knowledge on the overlap between these two complex phenomena not only hinder their understanding but create substantial obstacles for local, regional, national and supranational authorities to combat the networks and actors involved in the ‘business’ of trafficking and smuggling and to help those in need.

In order to contribute to filling the knowledge gap on the matter, the research will start by a systematic qualitative descriptive literature review on both human trafficking and human smuggling (Pillar I). Adopting a broad European scope, the systematic literature review aims to assess the extent to which both phenomena are described and perceived as intertwined by the scholarship and the grey literature (NGO, Think Thanks).

Human trafficking and human smuggling are often transnational crimes calling therefore for a comparative legal analysis both in the “books” and in “action” (Pillar II). Both phenomena are regulated at an international level (UN, ILO) and at a EU-level (e.g. Directive 2011/36/EU, Directive 2002/90/EC) as issues resulting from cross-border mobility require cooperation between EU member states.

However, these European instruments and the ideas of the European legislature can, and are most likely,  be subject to diverse interpretations and implementations by the EU member states at the national, regional and at the local level. It is therefore relevant to analyse how Spain, France and Belgium interpreted and implemented these EU instruments by looking at the national and regional policies and legislations and at the jurisprudence on these phenomena. By also conducting interviews in the border regions, with law enforcement officials, immigration lawyers, NGO’s and local migrant border communities, the research aims to uncover the different images, perceptions  and narratives about human trafficking and human smuggling on the local level (Pillar III).