The heterogeneity of human smugglers: a reflection on the use of concepts in studies on the smuggling of migrants

Alberto Aziani*

*Autore corrispondente per questo lavoro

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in rivistaArticolo in rivistapeer review


The use of a broad conceptualization of human smugglers fosters their stereotypical representation. Moreover, the lack of attention to the heterogeneity of smugglers, to their purposes, methods, and organisational choices, leads to the design of unfair and ineffective migration policies. Relying on previous empirical studies on smuggling and other officially documented instances of the smuggling of migrants, this study investigates the heterogeneity of migrant smugglers and their activities with respect to six dimensions: target/victim, purpose, geopolitical scope, intensity, operational scale, organisation. The results confirm that it is not possible to provide one single definition of a human smuggler; on the contrary, different characterizations exist. In marked contrast to the public conception of human smugglers, they are often motivated by empathy, are active for short periods, and coordinate themselves through loose local networks. Nonetheless, the evidence indicates that there are also profit-oriented groups stably conducting large-scale operations that may end in the victimization of the migrants. The adoption of a vocabulary able to account for the diverse characteristics of human smugglers is recommended in the academic, political and policy debate.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)1-27
Numero di pagine27
RivistaTrends in Organized Crime
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2021


  • Human smuggling
  • Irregular migration
  • Migration facilitator
  • Organised crime
  • Professional smuggler
  • Securitisation


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