State Responses and Migrant Experiences with Human Smuggling: A Reality Check

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Abstract

Using Bigo's (2002) notion of “the governmentality of unease” this article reveals a shift in popular discourse around human smuggling in Western Europe and Canada since the 1990s towards increasing criminalization. To analyze this process of criminalization we have identified three recurring elements: boat arrivals; high fees and “bogus” asylum seekers; and the involvement of organized crime. The finding that smugglers today are generally perceived as “evil criminals” who undermine states' ability to manage migration and who need to be punished is contrasted with data derived from interviews with smuggled migrants in the Netherlands and Canada that offer an alternative, more socially embedded understanding of human smuggling. We posit that this reality check and a more nuanced understanding of human smuggling are needed for the protection of international migrants.

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