The European Border Regime: People Smuggling and the Paradox of the Criminalization of Solidarity
The article discusses people smuggling within the European border regime, namely, the right to asylum, the demonization of smugglers, and the paradox of the criminalization of solidarity. As a commercial, illegal service, people smuggling can be seen as the opposite of solidarity with people on the move. Anti-smuggling laws blur their differences since the material benefit of helping people on the move does not qualify as criminal activity. The author presents the embeddedness of the smuggling-solidarity antagonism within the context of violent borders and state persecution. She concludes that solidarity practices are protests against, whereas smuggling is the effect of violent borders.
KEYWORDS: migration, violent borders, asylum, solidarity, people smuggling, activism
The article discusses people smuggling in the context of violent borders (Jones 2017). It addresses the right to asylum, deconstructs the demonization of smugglers, and sheds light on the paradox of the criminalization of solidarity. The key research perspective is auto-ethnographic, contextualizing the author’s own experience of helping people on the move and also being criminalized for this aid. Other research methods are interviews and the use of secondary sources. The author’s experience urged her to address not only the criminalization of solidarity but also the mainstream image of human smugglers. EU anti-smuggling legislation flattens the differences between smuggling and solidarity practices since the material benefit of helping people on the move is not a necessary element to qualify as criminal activity. The author presents the embeddedness of the smuggling-solidarity antagonism along the same continuum in the context of violent borders and state persecution.
Differently from the state accounts, ethnographic studies present the perspective of migrants and smugglers themselves, which disputes the binary “victim–predator” and “humanitarian–for-profit” positioning (Mohamamadi, Nikmar, Savage 2019; Majidi 2018; Zhang, Shanchez, Achilli 2018). In reality, refugee-smuggler roles may intertwine in the same person. Ethnographers emphasize that collective migration-specific knowledge is needed: smugglers and migrants alike are part of the communities-of-knowledge-in-mobility (Ayalew Mengiste 2018). The states’ combat against criminal networks results in criminalizing the normal commercial activities of taxi drivers and accommodation services in the externalized European border in Africa as well as on the Balkan route. The author further deconstructs the demonization of smugglers by presenting a case of smuggling as political activism. Solidarity practices surpass both capitalist free market relations and states’ monopoly to control borders. The article concludes that solidarity work not only helps people on the move but also protests against police violence and the current system of border control.