Following the European Commission’s recent release of its Renewed EU Action Plan Against Migrant Smuggling (2021-2025), we take stock of key insights arising from recent and ongoing research on the facilitation of irregular migration. The EU’s counter-smuggling policies equate irregular migration to a crime, while disregarding that safe, orderly and regular pathways for refugees and other migrants are hard to access. The Renewed EU Action Plan Against Migrant Smuggling (2021-2025) exacerbates the risks that refugees and other migrants face by penalising those who assist them. Civil society actors, family members and communities that act out of compassion or provide basic services in transit and destination countries continue to be investigated and prosecuted as ‘migrant smugglers’.
We call for more nuanced policy responses to migrant smuggling that are compliant with human rights and backed by empirical research. We recommend that the European Commission conducts a thorough human rights impact assessment of this Renewed EU Action Plan Against Migrant Smuggling and related Anti-Smuggling Operational Partnerships with third countries. The EU must narrow down its criminal definition of ‘facilitation of irregular migration’ to conform with the UN Migrant Smuggling protocol’s protection of family members, humanitarians and other bona fide actors by including an ‘unjust enrichment’ motive. We reiterate that all smuggled refugees and other migrants, regardless of how they reach their destination, must be exempt from criminalisation. We stress that returns, entry-bans and pushbacks should never be seen as counter-smuggling measures as they only increase the demand for migrant smuggling. Thus, we call on EU policy makers to create and enhance safe, orderly and regular pathways in light of the commitments under the UN Global Compacts for Migration and on Refugees.