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Human Smuggling as a Cross-border Challenge

Human Smuggling as a Cross-border Challenge


People smuggling has become a serious global economic enterprise whereby, profit-seeking convicts rustle immigrants across borders and among landmasses. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that the people smuggling business are worth more than $ US 10billion a year (Watson, 2015). It also estimates that more than 4 million people are smuggled across international borders (Watson, 2015). The smugglers take benefit of a large number of immigrants eager to put their lives at risk in pursuit of better life in places they cannot get access through legal channels of migration. Human smuggling has become a lucrative business for desperate people who seek better opportunities in oversee countries.

Summary of the News Article

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on Malaysian border control agencies intercepting a people trafficking tanker with 130 people going to Australia. The tanker was intercepted off the coast of southern Johor state with 130 Sri Lankans illegal immigrants heading to Australia (Massola & Rosa, 2018). The interception was part of a large effort intended to foil a smuggling syndicate that has been operating over the years across Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Malaysia borders. The arrest underpinned that the threat of people smuggling remains to be a serious border security concern. Three Indonesians and 8 Malaysians were arrested in connection to the syndicate that is culpable of illegally making money by illegally smuggling asylum seekers into Australia and other neighbouring countries. Since the Operation Sovereign Border was introduced in 2013, more than 30 boats carrying as many as 770 asylum seekers were intercepted in the Australian maritime zone and other international waters (Massola & Rosa, 2018). The arrest of the asylum seekers is intended to discourage them from making dangerous journeys to seek asylum in Australia. The smugglers are said to change their tactics to overcome anti-asylum seeker policies by providing discounts and multi-buy offers to lure asylum seekers.

Transnational Human Smuggling

The smuggled immigrants are at risk of exploitation, and their safety is at risk as they may stifle in ampules, drown in the sea or perish in deserts. A wide of range of cases have been reported where smugglers have been raped, robbed, beaten and left to die in seas. It has been established that human smuggling has close relations with human trafficking since the people smuggled are at increased risk of exploitation. The cheaper methods used to smuggle immigrants through trucks, containers and small boats put them at an increased risk of suffocation, dehydration in deserts and drowning in oceans.

One of the biggest challenges in fighting people smuggling is that it is a complex and a multifaceted vice encompassing transnational organized crime, human rights, refugee protection issues and border control.  The Smugglers of refugees are increasingly more organized and are starting skillful systems that exceed borders and include all regions (Monzini et al., 2015). Their tactics have also changed to circumvent the response of states as some of them have established cooperative relationships to expand their geographical reach. The cooperative establishments are helping the smugglers to become highly flexible networks that can easily adapt to the changing circumstances (Carrera & Guild, 2016). For instance, the smugglers are increasingly redirecting routes in response to increased border controls as well as using fraudulent documents to gain access to their destination country.  Forged immigration documents and fraudulent visas have become a common method used by the smugglers to gain access to the border they want. According to Monzini et al. (2015, p. 5), human smuggling is turning into a “transnational highly structured and tightly controlled multi-million-dollar, mafia-like criminal network, transporting in addition to humans, weapons, organs and drugs.”  The mafia-like and hierarchically structured organized criminal nature of the human smugglers make it even difficult to dismantle the network despite putting up the increased concerted effort and investment.   Human smuggling is one of the activities that foster criminal activities such as terrorism in countries where the migrants are seeking asylum. The smugglers’ criminal activities undermine the state’s ability to safeguard its sovereignty and combat crime within and across its borders.   The multifaceted nature of the people smuggling requires nuanced responses from states to overcome.

Lack of international cooperation is another challenge that undermines efforts to counter the transnational people smuggling crime.  There is a lack of effective bilateral and multilateral efforts to share intelligence and coordinate operational activities among border control authorities and law enforcement agencies.  According to Amri (2015), most of the bilateral and multilateral cooperation efforts that are employed by countries work by displacing smuggling routes to other countries. Subsequently, the demand for smuggling arises in new routes thus increasing border control risk and the ability of the smugglers to circumvent border protection regimes. Kyle and Koslowski (2011) admit that transnational efforts are required to develop a response action that transcends geographical, political and ideological barriers. Transnational cooperation should be informed by the need to establish a mechanism to fight people smuggling across boundaries. 

Regional cooperation agreements with other countries to transnational combat people smuggling crime have been put in place to protect the international borders. Australia, in particular, has entered into cooperation agreements with countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei to form a formidable border control force to avert incidence of people smuggling (Amri, 2015). The cooperation enhances intelligence sharing on the issue of people smuggling.  Co-ordination of policies through bilateral and multilateral agreements to protect victims, repatriate and extradite the criminals has also been adopted in the international cooperation to overcome the people smuggling vice. However, international cooperation in border protection without involving authorities of countries of origin, shipment and terminus cannot effectively fight the vice as the smugglers can take weak border protection in certain countries to create new smuggling routes.

The increased global crisis has also increased the rate of migrants seeking to be smuggled into safer areas across the globe. The rise of conflict in the Middle-East in many parts of Africa has tremendously increased the number of asylum seekers who end up being hoodwinked to believe that they can successfully be smuggled into a particular when they pay a certain amount of money. The conflicts in different parts of the globe have significantly increased the number of people seeking asylum thus increasing the demand for human smuggling. 

The policies that are used to combat the people smuggling crime have at times been found to have significant negative, regrettable and unwanted consequences. Most of the countries across the globe have implemented harder border control policies.  States have been forced to increase their investment in border surveillance technology and border guards to protect the border and detect false documents used to give criminals and illegal immigrants access to the country (Carrera & Guild, 2016).  Countries are also cooperating with like-minded states to intercept unwanted immigrants while interdictions at sea and international airports and carrier and visa sanctions to prevent illegal migrations have been adopted (Carrera & Guild, 2016). However, the harsh counter-people smuggling measures are pushing people further to smugglers making the vicious cycle of people smuggling a more sophisticated criminal enterprise with large resource and more difficult to stop. For instance, the imposition of the U.S. Mexico border has worsened the case of illegal immigration in the region. People are now smuggled using remote and dangerous places in the desert to avoid detection resulting in deaths of more than 500 people per year (Watson, 2015). The increased demand for smuggling increases the capacity of the smugglers to generate new tactics to circumvents increasingly strict border control policies. Consequently, the ability of a country to meet its domestic and international obligations can be hampered significantly. Additionally, harsh border protection measures by one country can divert people smugglers into other states. For instance, it has been established that the closure of the porous routes in Spain, Malta and Italy in 2011 resulted into a dramatic increase in people smuggling in Greece (Amri, 2015).


Human smuggling is a transnational crime that has experienced significant growth in the recent past. The transnational response is needed to develop effective mitigation strategies that would help extradite the smugglers and protect the smuggled from being exploited.   Lack of effective international cooperation in developing laws and policies that transcend the geographical, political and ideological barriers is a challenge that has made it difficult to deal with the crime effectively. It is important for the international actors to develop international cooperation based on values that are intended to fight the vice wholesomely.


Achilli, L., 2018. The “Good” Smuggler: The Ethics and Morals of Human Smuggling among Syrians. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science676(1), pp.77-96.

Amri, A.A., 2015. People smuggling in Southeast Asia: trends, challenges and way forward. Australian Journal of Maritime & Ocean Affairs7(2), pp.132-151.

Carrera, S. and Guild, E., 2016. Irregular Migration, Trafficking and Smuggling of Human Beings. Policy Dilemmas in the EU. Brussel: Centre for European Policy Studies. Retrieved from,%20Trafficking%20and%20SmugglingwithCovers.pdf

Kyle, D. and Koslowski, R. eds., 2011. Global human smuggling: Comparative Perspectives. JHU Press.

Massola, J. &Rosa, A. (2018). Malaysia stops people smuggling tanker with 130 heading to Australia. Retrieved from

Monzini, P., Pastore, F. and Abdel Aziz, N., 2015. The changing dynamics of cross-border human smuggling and trafficking in the Mediterranean. New-med Research Network. Retrieved from

Watson, S. 2015. “The Criminalization of Human and Humanitarian Smuggling.” Migration, Mobility, & Displacement, 1(1), pp. 27-41.

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