Joint Policy Study

Beyond Networks, Militias and Tribes: Rethinking EU Counter-Smuggling Policy and Response

May 2021


Amid the end of Operation Sophia, the announcement of a new migration package together with a new Security Union Strategy, and the release of the Roadmap to the European Union (EU) Action Plan against migrant smuggling (2021-2025) – all in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic – there is momentum to reflect critically on the actions and instruments the EU has deployed to counter migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean and beyond, and to propose what should be done differently under the forthcoming term.

The Policy Study examines EU counter-smuggling programmes and strategies, documenting and improving the understanding of their impacts not only in North Africa and the Sahel, but in EU policy and law enforcement circles. Relying on field-based research and other empirical sources, it also provides evidence-based understandings of the dynamics present in the facilitation of irregular migration – including those shaped or impacted by the COVID-19 emergency – and the current challenges faced by migrants in transit and in need.

The study is divided into four chapters. Chapter one identifies policy-makers’ understanding of migrant smuggling and its implications in light of the forthcoming EU migration package. Chapter two examines the use of social media by law enforcement in counter-smuggling operations and its ethical implications. Chapter three identifies the impacts of counter-smuggling activities in Niger, and the ways they have impacted the lives of migrant transporters and other merchants – in particular, women – who benefited from the presence of migrants. The fourth and closing chapter examines how irregular departures from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco have been organised over the last year in spite of the pandemic, and the implications of the facilitation of irregular migration for migrants.

Download the Policy Study (also available in Arabic) and watch the video on our YouTube Channel.

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