Smuggling and human trafficking are often confused, but are not the same thing. Smuggling is the illegal crossing of a national border, and is a criminal act for the both the smuggler and the person smuggled. Human trafficking is the crime of slavery-like labor or commercial sexual exploitation, and may not involve any transportation at all. It is a crime committed by the trafficker against a victim, and so only the trafficker has committed a criminal act.
While a trafficked person may experience forced movement during the trafficking, the forced movement or confinement is not by itself trafficking, absent other factors. It is the slavery-like labor exploitation or commercial sexual exploitation that determines whether trafficking has occured. In some trafficking cases, little to no movement or transportation occurs.
In some respects, trafficking in persons resembles the smuggling of migrants, but there are several important differences. The smuggling of migrants, while often undertaken in dangerous or degrading conditions, involves migrants who have consented to the smuggling. Trafficking victims, on the other hand, have either never consented or, if they initially consented, that consent has been rendered meaningless by the coercive, deceptive or abusive actions of the traffickers.
Another major difference is that smuggling ends with the arrival of the migrants at their destination, whereas trafficking involves the ongoing exploitation of the victims in some manner to generate illicit profits for the traffickers. From a practical standpoint, victims of trafficking also tend to be more severely affected and in greater need of protection from re-victimization and other forms of further abuse than are smuggled migrants.
Finally, smuggling is always transnational, whereas trafficking may not be. Trafficking can occur regardless of whether victims are taken to another country or only moved from one place to another within the same country.
Criminal networks that smuggle human beings for financial gain increasingly control the flow of migrants across borders. Due to more restrictive immigration policies of the destination countries and improved technology to monitor border crossing points, willing illegal migrants rely increasingly on the help of organized people smugglers.
People smuggling is not a homogenous criminal activity; the price of the trip, conditions of travel, and status upon arrival can vary significantly.
Trafficking is distinct from smuggling in so far as the traffic of human beings involves the exploitation of the migrant, often for purposes of forced labour and prostitution.
People smuggling simply implies the procurement, for financial or material gain, of the illegal entry into a state of which that person is neither a citizen nor a permanent resident.
People smuggling has become the preferred trade of a growing number of criminal networks worldwide which show an increased sophistication with regard to moving larger numbers of people at higher profits than ever.
It is acknowledged that the smuggling of people is a continuously growing global phenomenon. It is not only a transnational crime, but also an enormous violation of human rights and a contemporary form of slavery. Currently, economic discomfort appears to be the main reason for illegal migration movement throughout the world.
Nevertheless, many of the willing migrants undertake the hazardous travel to their destination country with criminal syndicates services specialised in people smuggling. These syndicates will arrange everything for the migrants, but at a high price.
Very often the travelling conditions are inhumane, the migrants overcrowded in trucks or boats and fatal accidents occur quite frequently.
After their arrival in their destination country, the illegal status of the migrants puts them into the mercy of their smugglers, which often force them for years to work in the illegal labour market to pay off the debts incurred as a result of their transportation.
If the migrants are not able to pay, often their relatives in their home countries are forced to pay the debts by the threat of the syndicates to torture or kill their family members abroad.
People smuggling syndicates are still benefiting from weak legislation, huge profits and the relatively low risk of detection, prosecution and arrest compared to other activities of transnational organized crime.
That creates the need for a structure, which enables police and other law enforcement agencies to co-operate on a global basis. Interpol fulfils that role and considerable efforts are being made to develop the services that it can offer.
Changing methods of the people smuggling networks as a response to legislative and law enforcement activities are necessary for their survival. Flexibility is thus one of the main characteristics of transportation and the choice of routes. This means that the routes used by people smugglers may sometimes be simple and direct, at other times circuitous. The time between departure and arrival may thus vary from some days to several months or even years. Smuggling is carried out either by land, air or sea.
The following outlines some examples for frequently used for people smuggling.
Migrants from the Asian region are mainly using the route via Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan to Russia and from there via the Ukraine, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to western European countries or even further to the United States and Canada.
At the same time, the classical Balkan route from Asian countries via Iran and Turkey and from there via the Balkan states to Western Europe is used for the smuggling of migrants as well as for the smuggling of all other kind of illegal of illegal goods like drugs, fire arms, etc.
Especially during summer months, Spain has to face the arrival of thousands of illegal immigrants originating from the Sub-Saharan region on the African continent. These willing immigrants undertake the hazardous trip to travel from Morocco to southern Spain by using the narrow Strait of Gibraltar where only 21 km are separating Europe and Africa. Many people travelling in small, overcrowded boats, have already drowned in their desperate attempt try to reach Europe.
Australia is also facing a growing number of illegal immigrants mostly from the Middle East and southern Asia landing at its western coasts and especially on Christmas Island, which is located relatively close to the Indonesian archipelago. Most of the refugees originated from the Near East first enter Malaysia where they are taken to the south before making a short ferry crossing to the Indonesian island of Batam. From there it is not difficult to reach Jakarta and go on to the southern Indonesian islands of Bali, Flores, or Lombok where they embark for Australia.
Smuggling migrants to the United States is mostly achieved by putting them on planes. Ships with migrants on board are mainly bound for the west coast, but the use of this route has dropped considerably. Smuggling networks seem to focus more and more on Central and South America where they maintain the necessary links to Mexican people smugglers in order to move the illegal migrants via Mexico to North America.