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Workshops on Human Smuggling: Transatlantic Perspectives

The subject of this project was human smuggling, with the aim of combining expert knowledge from both sides of the Atlantic and thereby developing political recommendations based on this experience. The project was supported by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

In spring 2000, the efms and the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, Washington organised two seminars on this topic whose contents complemented and co-ordinated with each other. The first seminar took place in Germany, the second in the United States. The participants were international experts from ministry departments, administrative and legal bodies, from migration research as well as from other organisations (NGOs) which deal with the issue from different perspectives. In addition to the exchange of information with regard to the mechanisms, forms and causes of this worldwide, expanding phenomenon, the foundation for an international network was laid.


Seminar in Tutzing, 8 and 9 March 2000

In co-operation with the Akademie für Politische Bildung (Academy of Political Education) in Tutzing, Germany, the first of the two seminars took place on 8 and 9 March 2000. The following topic complexes were discussed:

1. Forms, routes and causes of the smuggling of migrants

The aim of the opening meeting was to create a common platform for discussion. Whilst estimates for 1993 assumed that approximately 50,000 illegal migrants were smuggled into the EU member states, it must be assumed that in 1999 there were approximately 400,000 cases of human smuggling throughout the EU. The situation for the gathering of data on this subject proved to be problematic, as there are hardly any valid data available. It is naturally only possible to register those cases of human smuggling which are foiled by state counter-measures. However, even these figures usually only register the number of cases, which do not necessarily correspond with the number of people smuggled into the country. A consistent international comparison of data is hampered by the methods of registration varying from country to country. In addition, explanation was offered as to the sources of data employed by the official bodies in order to gain an insight into the routes used by human smugglers.

A great range of forms of human smuggling was revealed, with the trend heading towards more 'professionalism' in smuggling organisations. One characteristic here is the differentiated procedures employed by such organisations as regards the division of labour. The leadership and the middle level are mainly ethnically homogeneous. The lowest level of the hierarchy is occupied by those who accompany migrants whilst crossing the border illegally. Local people from both sides of the respective border are preferred for this task. The increasing professionalism is also reflected in the ever expanding range of crimes associated with smuggling. The procuring of documents was mentioned as an example in this case.

On the other hand, not all smuggling organisations correspond with the popular media image of unscrupulous criminals. Case studies have revealed that it is frequently relatives and friends who make illegal migration possible. Trust is then the basis on which the smuggling takes place.

A sociological approach which attempts to explain the increasing illegal migration assumes a globally merging system of values. The attractiveness of the countries of destination is based on the fact that these values can be more easily realised there. At the same time, mobility is increasing in the developing countries, too. Both factors together lead to migration pressure intensifying. Upon discovering that this pressure cannot be relieved by legal means, the demand grows for services which facilitate migration nonetheless, in other words, the demand for human smuggling increases.

2. Consequences of smuggling and the situation of illegal migrants

The difficult situation of illegal migrants was explored in the light of various studies. Due to the constant fear of discovery and expulsion, migrants are subject to extreme pressure to adapt. They can be easily blackmailed because of their illegality. These circumstances are used by well-organised groups of smugglers to exploit the migrants in the receiving country by forcing them, for example, into prostitution.

The migrants often find work via the networks of their own ethnic group in place in the receiving countries. In this case, too, migrants easily become dependent on others. Their work is generally badly paid and often takes place in unacceptable conditions.

In this context, the double standards of western societies were addressed which, on the one hand, try to combat illegal migration, but, on the other hand, have a demand for this form of illicit work. Mindful of the fact that an increasingly tough battle against illegal migration promotes the creation and expansion of smuggling organisations, attention was drawn to alternative approaches to solving the problem such as legalisation programmes and amnesties.

3. Measures used by the receiving countries to combat human smuggling and their effectiveness

Primarily, mention was made of measures employed by the Federal Republic of Germany and the USA. After an introduction to the German legal situation, a presentation was given of how, since 1996, the State Offices of Criminal Investigation together with the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation have developed a joint strategy to better combat smuggling, which has been implemented since 1998. This strategy includes amongst other things the regular exchange of information, more intensive co-operation with various other authorities as well as guidelines on rewarding informants.

Due to its geographical location, the Federal State of Bavaria is particularly affected by smuggling criminality. Dragnet controls have proved to be an effective counter-strategy in this case. It was also in Bavaria that accelerated court proceedings were introduced for smuggling cases in 1997.

A comparative study of the legal sanctioning of smuggling crimes throughout Germany revealed serious differences in the punishments imposed in the various federal states.

Alongside the measures employed at national level, the importance of international co-operation was particularly highlighted.

The USA also relies on improved co-operation between the authorities in the fight against smuggling criminality. This is the case at both national and international level. Co-operation takes place, for example, with Russia and Mexico.

Illegal immigrants acting as witnesses are granted residence permits as a reward for their testimony in trials concerning smuggling cases.

In view of brutal practices employed by smugglers, the combating of smuggling criminality is seen in the USA as a necessity to protect human rights.

4. Preventative measures and their effectiveness

In this section, strategies that receiving countries could establish within their own borders were first dealt with. The thesis was put forward that the more rigorously illegal border crossings were combated, the higher was the demand for the help of professional smugglers. In order to combat smugglers, the counter-concept therefore suggested easier opportunities for legal migration, whilst at the same time tightening checks on illegal migration inland.

This concept was countered by the increasing migration pressure as a whole with the comment that borders which are difficult to get past cannot sufficiently explain the increasing demand for smuggling.

Subsequently, various information campaigns were presented which tried to counterbalance the promises of smugglers in the countries of origin by showing the reality actually awaiting illegal migrants in the countries of destination. Even if the success of such campaigns cannot easily be quantified, it was possible to report positive responses on the part of those potentially affected by the prospect of illegal migration.

The positive image and high social prestige enjoyed by smugglers in the countries of origin often work against the education campaigns. In addition, attention was also drawn to the fact that there is also often a lack of information about this phenomenon in the receiving countries.

5. International co-operation in the fight against smuggling

A detailed presentation was given here of the origin and work of the Budapest Process as the body with the largest international involvement worldwide in the fight against human smuggling.

Subsequently, reference was made to the three levels at which the Federal Republic of Germany co-operates with other states in combating smuggling criminality. Firstly, mention was made of the co-operation with neighbouring countries to secure the borders, secondly, co-operation along smuggling routes and, thirdly, participation in multinational projects such as Europol or Interpol.

Finally, it was pointed out that the link between the global economy, international migration and transnational criminality is still being ignored by research and science, despite the fact that politics already began some time ago to react to this connection.

Seminar in Washington, 4 and 5 June 2000

The second seminar in the series was held in Washington on 4 - 5 June 2000 in co-operation with the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, Washington, and the Center for Global Change and Governance at Rutgers University, Newark.

Funding: The German Marshall Fund of the United States
Completed: 2000
Researcher: Tanja Wunderlich

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