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Rsc working paper 119

At a time when it is nearly impossible for refugees to reach the European Union through safe and legal channels, and human smugglers are providing one of the only means for refugees to flee persecution, should human smugglers be brought to justice, or are they bringing about justice? The latest RSC working paper, The ‘humanitarian smuggling’ of refugees: criminal offence or moral obligation? by Rachel Landry, enquires into the range of morally permissible actions that might be considered ‘humanitarian smuggling’ – those acts of the facilitation of irregular entry that are morally blameless, if not praiseworthy or even obligatory, and should not be criminalised. 

Turning first to legal doctrine, Landry argues that smuggling prohibitions at both the international and European levels are vague and overbroad, failing to enable subjects of the law to orientate their behaviour accordingly and risking the suppression of humanitarian acts. Secondly, drawing upon practical ethics as well as historical and contemporary examples, she begins to map the complex moral terrain of the range of ethically defensible acts of smuggling that risk criminalisation under current smuggling prohibitions. Finally, she analyses several recommendations to shrink the distance between what is legal and what is moral, arguing that at a minimum, smuggling prohibitions must be more narrowly drafted to decriminalise ‘humanitarian smugglers’.

Ultimately, Landry proposes that the true wrongs that human smugglers worthy of criminalisation commit may be more aptly punished under other offences in criminal law. 

Read the working paper here >>