smuggling vs. trafficking

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Subject: smuggling vs. trafficking
From: David Kyle (
Date: Tue Feb 09 1999 - 22:51:47 EST

Food for thought.

We must remember that this distinction between "human smuggling" and
"migrant trafficking" is somewhat arbitrary. "Smuggling" does not
necessarily imply coercion but simply that smugglers smuggled something
across a border clandestinely. I agree it may be useful for political
purposes to make a clear distinction between "smuggling" and "trafficking"
for organizing purposes by particular groups. However, by doing so we lose
the insight that, in large part, migrants have to be "smuggled" for the same
reasons that other highly regulated, highly taxed, or prohibited commodities
are smuggled (and have been for centuries). Contemporary smuggling in all
of its forms is closely linked to states' attempts to control or profit from
the economy, including labor flows. When state controls increase so does
smuggling--a relationship not adequately captured through the more narrow,
and legalistic migrant "trafficking" ("to deal in illegal substances").

Another problem with any of these taxonomies is that much of these
activities described in these news reports are neither "voluntary" nor
"involuntary" in some pure sense--nearly all forms of transnational trade in
humans/migrants have elements of coercion/pressure and "individual choice."
Of course, that is not to say that there are not cases of outright trickery,
abduction and slavery, especially of women and ethnic minorities in remote
areas. My point is that we should not should let our labels obscure the
complexity and diversity of activities related to the profiting from human
mobility and work across borders in a world Anthony Richmond characterizes
as "Global Apartheid."

If a particular person or organization wishes to define terms in an
exclusive way that is very helpful for understanding what is being discussed
by them. For example, I do appreciate the fact that when Melanie Orphant
writes about this topic I know what *she* means by "trafficking" vs..
"smuggling." However, since labels are social constructions and conceptual
tools, imperial definitions imposed on others rarely help any discussion.
For historical and conceptual reasons, I prefer "migrant smuggling" and the
people who profit from this trade in any manner "migration merchants." I
don't think this is "mislabeling" on my part even though others will surely
disagree with these terms.


David Kyle
Dept. of Sociology, SSHB
University of California -- Davis
Davis, CA 95616
Tel. (530) 752-1582
FAX (530) 752-0783
-----Original Message-----
From: Melanie Orhant <>
To: Multiple recipients of list <stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU>
Date: Wednesday, February 10, 1999 10:44 PM
Subject: news: China aliens nailed: 6 tried to sneak across Niagara bridge

>why were they being brought into the country? to work in a sweatshop? to
>pay off their debt? isn't this yet another case of trafficking that is
>being mislabeled "smuggling?"
>China aliens nailed: 6 tried to sneak across Niagara bridge
>Toronto Sun, February 10, 1999

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