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Avoiding the risks

If you are a citizen of a country outside the EU and you wish to come to the EU, you must have all the necessary documents formally approved by the country's authorities and no one else. That is the only way to come to Europe legally. A specific job offer, or offer for accommodation is not enough to make you enter legally.

If you come or stay in an EU country illegally, you will face problems and difficulties. You may be sent back to your country by the authorities. You may also face penalties and an EU wide entry ban.

If you are staying in an EU country without legal permission, you will face difficulties getting a job, getting a place to stay, and having access to education and health care.

You must also be suspicious of any offers by individuals or groups who want to help you enter an EU country without proper and formal approval by that country's authorities. There are many criminal networks involved in trafficking and smuggling people into EU countries. If you are either promised money or asked to pay someone to help you enter, you must reject their offer.

If you become a victim of such criminal networks, you might be abused, forced to work against your will, or sexually exploited and you will still have entered the EU illegally.

On these pages you will find information on what human trafficking and smuggling are, how the EU works to prevent these crimes, punish the offenders and protect the victims.

You will also find out how the EU deals with children from outside the EU who travel alone to EU countries.
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What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is the trade in human beings for exploiting them. This includes sexual exploitation or forced labour (e.g. working as a slave in agriculture or other areas). It is a crime and a serious violation of human rights. Human trafficking is often referred to as a modern form of slavery, affecting several hundred thousand victims each year in the EU including children.

Human trafficking differs from other forms of irregular migration because victims of human trafficking are exploited when they arrive in their destination country.

The EU seeks to cooperate with non-EU countries in the fight against human trafficking, particularly countries from which victims are often being trafficked.

What is a human trafficking offence?

Anyone who intentionally uses (or threatens to use) force or another form of coercion, fraud, deception or abuse of power to traffic people (to recruit them, transport, transfer, harbour or receive, exchange or transfer control over those persons) for the purposes of exploitation will be guilty of a human trafficking offence.

EU laws cover different forms of exploitation, such as sexual exploitation, forced labour (including begging, slavery, servitude) or the removal of organs.

Even without using force or deception, someone who traffics a person under 18 years, or a vulnerable person who had no alternative but to submit to being trafficked is equally guilty of a human trafficking offence. People who instigate, assist or attempt to commit a trafficking offence can also be punished.

How are human trafficking offenders punished?

A person who is found guilty of a human trafficking offence could be sentenced to severe imprisonment penalties. They can be of different lengths in different EU countries (up to five years in prison).Human Trafficking

This sentence could be increased to ten years or more in the following circumstances:
  • The victim was particularly vulnerable, for example he/she was a child;
  • A criminal organisation was involved;
  • The victim’s life was endangered;
  • The offence involved the use of serious violence or caused particularly serious harm to the victim.
Companies or establishments which are used during human trafficking offences could be shut down or prevented from operating, while assets and money gained from such offences can be confiscated.

Preventing Trafficking

EU countries are constantly working to prevent trafficking. Recently all EU countries agreed on tougher action against trafficking and better protection for the victims. The new legislation also includes:
  • Information and awareness-raising campaigns;
  • Intensifying research on the subject;
  • Promoting regular training for officials likely to come into contact with victims and potential victims of human trafficking.
How can I avoid human traffickers?

You must be suspicious of any offers from people or groups who want to help you enter an EU country without proper and formal approval by that country's authorities. If you are either promised money or asked to pay for someone to help you enter, you must reject their offer.

You should instead contact your diplomatic or consular authorities about how to legally come to an EU country, either for short-term or long-term stays.

Am I a victim of human trafficking?
  • Did someone take away your identity card or passport?
  • Is someone forcing you to work for them to pay off a debt?
  • Were you deceived about the nature of the job, location or employer?
  • Are you working excessive days or hours, or performing dangerous work?
  • Are you isolated, confined or under surveillance?
  • Is someone forcing you to work, to engage in criminal activities or have sex against your will?
  • Is someone threatening to hurt you or your family?
If you answered 'yes' for you or someone you know, you or that person may indeed be a victim of human trafficking. You should contact support organisations or the police for help.

What support is available for victims of human trafficking?

The EU recognises that vulnerable people, especially children, can be preyed upon by human traffickers. EU countries offer victims protection and support, which can include the right to temporary residence in their host country. EU-wide laws which are due to take effect in EU countries soon will provide even more robust support and protection for victims.

More on EU policy against trafficking

The EU's anti-trafficking website

Find organisations in EU countries that support victims of trafficking
Human Smuggling

What is human smuggling?

People are smuggled into an EU country when they are helped to enter the country without authorisation. This normally happens by getting help to evade border controls or by getting false or fake travel or identity documents, which can lead to hazardous and dangerous situations for those being smuggled. Human Smuggling

Unlike most victims of human trafficking, people who are smuggled do so with their own consent and are generally free to find their own way after they arrive at their destination.

What is a smuggling offence under EU law?

A person who directly or indirectly helps a non-EU citizen to enter or live in an EU country will be guilty of smuggling. People who participate in or instigate a smuggling offence will be equally guilty.

Preventing Migrant Smuggling

What do EU countries do to prevent migrant smuggling?

EU countries are improving border controls to ensure a smooth passage for those who visit a country legally while better detecting illegal activities and preventing irregular entries. EU countries are also including so called biometric elements – such as face recognition – in their citizens’ passports and travel documents aimed at preventing and fighting fraudulent activities. EU Agencies support Member States, for instance the European Border and Coast Guard Agency support Member States in border management, while Europol's European Migrant Smuggling Centre support Member States in fighting this form of cross-border crime.

Measures are also in place to punish migrant smugglers.

How are smugglers punished?

There are EU-wide laws for penalties for convicted smugglers in 26 EU countries, excluding Denmark who has decided not to participate.

Under these laws, convicted smugglers can be:
  • Imprisoned, in cases where the smuggler has received financial benefits;
  • Removed from an EU country;
  • Banned from carrying out the job they were doing at the time of the offence.
Any vehicle used for the offence can be confiscated. On top of the EU-wide rules, individual EU countries may also have additional penalties for convicted smugglers.

What risks could I face if I am smuggled into an EU country?

If you are smuggled into an EU country, you will not have the right to be there.

You may have to pay fines and may be returned to your home country. Each EU country sets its own penalties for unauthorised entry or stay.

If you are staying in the EU without permission, you may also face difficulties in getting a job, a place to live and accessing education and health care. This could lead to further risks and possible exploitation.

How do I avoid these risks?

You should be very careful before accepting a promise of entry into an EU country, as this could be a sign that an illegal migrant smuggling network is at work.

You should instead contact your diplomatic or consular authorities about how to legally enter an EU country, either for short-term or long-term stays.

More on crossing the EU border

More on how to legally enter the EU

Is there any support available for me if I have been smuggled into an EU country?

Non-EU citizens who have been smuggled into the EU may be able to get a temporary residence permit in some EU countries if they cooperate with the police in bringing their smugglers to justice.

More on temporary residence permits
Children Travelling Alone

Children travelling alone If you are a non-EU citizen under 18 years of age and would like to come to an EU country on your own, it is important to follow the proper procedures. Otherwise you will be an irregular migrant and may have to return home.

More on how to legally enter the EU

Children arriving in an EU country alone are protected until a durable solution is found. Durable solutions should be determined in the interest of the child and shall consist of either:
  • return and reintegration in the country of origin; or
  • granting of a legal status allowing minors to integrate in the EU country.
EU policy is based on the respect for the rights of the child as set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2010, the EU adopted an Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors which proposed an EU-wide approach to dealing with non-EU children who arrive in EU countries without adult companions. In April 2017, The Commission adopted a Communication on the protection of children in migration.

Further information

More on how to legally enter the EU

Crossing an EU border

Avoiding the risks

Protecting the victims of trafficking

EU-wide rules on trafficking in human beings

EU-wide rules on residence permits for victims of human trafficking

EU-wide rules on smuggling EU Action Plan on children travelling alone