A study on smuggling of migrants: Characteristics, responses and cooperation with third countries (EMN)

This study provides information on the scale, characteristics, trends and patterns of migrant smuggling to the EU and analyzes the institutional arrangements, legal framework, policies and activities at international, EU and national level tackling this phenomenon.


The study was carried out by a consortium comprising Optimity Advisors, ICMPD and ECRE, commissioned by the European Commission’s DG Migration and Home.

It involved six months of desk research, interviews and data analysis across selected European Member States and third countries.

The objectives of this study were to:

  • Map and analyse policies, programmes and operational responses implemented by selected EU Member States and third countries aimed to fight against, reduce and prevent migrant smuggling to the EU.
  • Draw concrete comparative assessments of practices in various parts of the world where smuggling of migrants occur, based on a factual and comparative picture of the scale, characteristics, trends and patterns of the phenomenon.
  • Draw conclusions based on the data collection and case study outcomes.

Some results

Among other key results, the study shows that :

  • There is an active market for migrant smuggling services. Price, quality and risk vary across routes and suppliers are able to differentiate between customers.
  • There are strong communication networks. Information is shared quickly between buyers, between sellers and between these two groups (through social media, pay-as-you-go phones…).
  • The business model for the supply of smuggling services is based on networks, which are  complex, shifting, and resilient. Where the intensity of smuggling activities is greatest, smuggling networks cluster to form Hubs. Journeys are rarely organized from beginning to end, routes are flexible and can easily change.
  • Operational activities to tackle supply are likely to be more effective if they are comprehensive and if targeted at the Hubs. Policies that are unilateral and not comprehensive simply serve to alter the routes.
  • Coordination of activities across agencies and borders is essential.
  • Policies that focus only on supply, without also addressing demand, could simply increase market price or risk rather than actually reducing the use of smuggling services
  • Family and diaspora play an important role, particularly regarding the provision of information to potential migrants. These social ties are very important in the context of setting policies to address migrant smuggling.

For further information, please consult the full study attached (available in English). You can also consult the executive summary (in French and in English) to get more information on the main conclusions of the study.

Publication Date:
Tue 17 Nov 2015
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