What are immigrants and illegal migrants

Workshop on Human Smuggling: Transatlantic Perspectives


The subject of this project was the smuggling of migrants with the aim of pooling expert knowledge across the Atlantic and developing policy recommendations based on this. The project was funded by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

In the spring of 2000 efms and the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, Washington, held two seminars on the topic that build on each other, the first in Germany and the second in the USA. Participants were international experts from ministries, administration and justice, from migration research and other organizations (NGOs) who deal with the problem from different perspectives. In addition to the exchange between the participants about the mechanisms, forms and causes of the globally growing phenomenon, the foundation for an international network was laid.


Seminar in Tutzing, March 8th and 9th, 2000

On March 8th and 9th, the first of the two expert seminars took place in cooperation with the Academy for Political Education in Tutzing. The following main topics were discussed:

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

The aim of the opening session was to create a common platform for discussion. While estimates for 1993 were based on the assumption that around 50,000 illegal migrants were smuggled into the EU member states, it must be assumed that around 400,000 cases of people smuggled across the EU in 1999. The data situation on this topic turned out to be problematic in general, as there is hardly any valid data. Naturally, only those smugglers that fail due to government countermeasures can be recorded. But even these numbers usually only register the number of cases, which does not necessarily correspond to the number of people smuggled. A consistent international comparison of the data is made difficult by nationally varying recording modes. In addition, it was explained which data sources the official bodies access in order to obtain information about the routes used by smugglers.

There was a wide range of forms of human smuggling. One trend is towards the professionalization of smuggling organizations. One characteristic is the differentiated, work-sharing approach of such smuggling organizations. The management level and the middle level are mostly ethnically homogeneous. At the bottom of the hierarchy are those who accompany migrants on their illegal border crossing. For this purpose, preference is given to using local residents on both sides of the border in question. The professionalization is also reflected in a growing range of offenses committed in connection with smuggling. The procurement of documents was mentioned here as an example.

On the other hand, not all smuggling organizations correspond to the image of unscrupulous criminals so popular with media makers. Case studies have shown that relatives and acquaintances often facilitate illegal migration. Trust is then the basis on which the smuggling takes place.

A sociological approach that tries to explain the increasing illegal migration is based on a world-wide growing together value system. The attractiveness of the target countries is based on the fact that these values ​​can best be realized here. At the same time, mobility is also growing in developing countries. Both together lead to increased migratory pressure. Since this cannot be legally dismantled, there is great demand for services that still enable migration, i.e. after smuggling.

2. Consequences of smuggling and the situation of illegal migrants

The difficult situation of illegal migrants was examined against the background of various studies. Due to the constant fear of discovery and deportation, the migrants are under extreme pressure to adapt. They can be blackmailed with their illegality. Well-organized smuggling gangs use this fact to exploit migrants in the destination country, e.g. to force them into prostitution.

Migrants often find work through networks of their own ethnic group that exist in the destination countries. Here, too, the illegal migrants easily become dependent. Their work is usually poorly paid and often takes place under unreasonable conditions.

In this context, the double standards of Western societies were addressed, which on the one hand fight illegal immigration, but on the other hand have a need for this form of illegal work. Bearing in mind that an increasingly tough fight against illegal migration promotes the emergence and expansion of smuggling organizations, alternative approaches such as legalization programs and amnesties were referred to.

3. Control measures of the target countries and their effectiveness

Above all, the measures taken by the Federal Republic of Germany and the USA were discussed here. After an introduction to the German legal situation, it was shown how, since 1996, the State Criminal Police Office and the Federal Criminal Police Office have worked out a joint strategy to better combat smuggling, which has been implemented since 1998. This includes the regular exchange of information, more intensive cooperation with various other authorities and guidelines on the reward of witnesses.

Due to its geographical location, the federal state of Bavaria is heavily affected by people smuggling. The veil search has proven to be a successful counter-strategy. For the first time, the accelerated court procedure in smuggling processes was introduced here in 1997.

A comparative study of the nationwide judicial sanctioning of smuggling offenses revealed serious differences in the penalties imposed in the various federal states.

In addition to the measures at national level, the importance of international cooperation was particularly emphasized.

The USA is also relying on increased official cooperation in the fight against human smugglers. This applies both at national and international level. For example, there are cooperations with Russia and Mexico.

Witnesses who have immigrated illegally are granted residence permits in return for their testimony in smuggling processes.

In view of the brutal smuggling practices, the fight against human smugglers is seen as an imperative to protect human rights.

4. Preventive measures and their effectiveness

This section started out with strategies that target countries can implement within their own borders. The thesis was put forward that the help of professional smugglers is more in demand the more massive illegal border crossings are combated. In order to eliminate smugglers, the counter-draft therefore relies on easier legal entry options while at the same time tightening controls on illegal migration in Germany.

This draft was countered by the overall growing migration pressure with the indication that barriers that were difficult to overcome are not suitable to explain the increasing demand for human smugglers.

As a result, various awareness-raising campaigns were presented which attempt to counterbalance the promises made by the smugglers in the countries of origin by showing what illegal migrants can actually expect in the destination countries. Even if the success of such campaigns cannot be quantified, it was possible to report on the positive response from those potentially affected.

The often positive image and the high social prestige that smugglers enjoy in their countries of origin go against the awareness campaigns. It was also pointed out that there was a lack of information about the phenomenon in the target countries as well.

5. International cooperation in the fight against smuggling

The origins and work of the Budapest Process as the body with the world's largest international participation in the fight against smuggling and human trafficking were presented in detail here.

Then the focus was on the three levels at which the Federal Republic of Germany cooperates with other states in the fight against human smugglers: First of all, there is cooperation with neighboring countries to secure borders, second, cooperation along smugglers' routes and third, participation in multinational projects such as Europol or Interpol.

Finally, it was pointed out that the connection between the globalized economy, international migrations and transnational crime is still being neglected by science, although politics has long since begun to react to this connection.

Washington Seminar, June 4th and 5th, 2000

The second seminar in the series was held on April 4-5. June 2000 in Washington in collaboration 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.

Advancement: The German Marshall Fund of the United States
Graduation: 2000
Editor: Tanja Wunderlich