The smuggling of migrants—or people smuggling as it is sometimes referred to—is a prominent and contentious issue around the world.  It involves the ‘procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a country of which the person is not a national or a permanent residence’ (Article 3(a) of the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air). 

Virtually every country in the world is affected by the smuggling of migrants, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination.  Restrictions placed on the free movements of people play into the hands of migrant smugglers who exploit differences in national laws and legal systems.  Taking advantage of those willing or forced to migrate, migrant smugglers create illegal ways of migration by using covert and overt methods to transport people, supplying false documents, or harbouring irregular migrants.  During their journeys smuggled migrants are often vulnerable to life-threatening risks and exploitation.  Thousands of people have suffocated in containers, perished in deserts, or drowned at sea. 

The smuggling of migrants has become a major issue in domestic politics, international relations, and criminal justice.  Behind the media hype and political rhetoric that surrounds migrant smuggling in many countries lies a complex and dynamic process that plays a crucial role in irregular migration between specific countries, across regions, and around the world.  Sending, transit, and destination countries face numerous challenges from the smuggling of migrants.  In responding to this transnational crime, governments must effectively target those who seek to profit from circumventing immigration controls while recognising that smuggled migrants are often placed in situations of serious vulnerability.

In 2011, the University of Queensland’s (UQ) TC Beirne School of Law in conjunction with the School of Political Science & International Studies set up a research group to undertake comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon of migrant smuggling.  The work of the UQ Migrant Smuggling Working Group complements the research conducted by the Human Trafficking Working Group, established in 2008.

This website contains information about the current projects undertaken by the Working Group members, analyses of the levels and patterns of migrant smuggling, and relevant domestic and international laws.  The Migrant Smuggling Case Database involves a collection of reported cases of migrant smuggling from a variety of jurisdictions worldwide.  Reports, publications, and presentations produced by the Working Group are also available.