Migration and Home Affairs

Migrant Smuggling

Migrant smuggling is a profitable business for criminal networks with an estimated annual turnover reaching multiple billion euros worldwide. Smugglers use land, sea and air routes to facilitate irregular migration both into and within the European Union.   

Migrant smuggling is increasingly associated with serious human rights violations and deaths, in particular when it occurs by sea. The loss of migrants' lives at the hands of smugglers in the Mediterranean Sea reminds us of the acute need to tackle migrant smuggling, using all of the legal, operational, and administrative levers available.

The fact that migrant smuggling networks are closely linked to other forms of serious and organised crime including terrorism, human trafficking, and money laundering increases this urgency.   

EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling

EU Action

As announced in the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, the Commission will present a new EU action plan against migrant smuggling for the period 2021-2025, following up on the first EU action plan against migrant smuggling, which was adopted in May 2015.

The new EU action plan will be accompanied by an overview of the progress made in combating migrant smuggling in the EU, including all actions taken since the EU action plan 2015-2020 entered into force.

EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling: 2015 – 2020

The EU 2015-2020 action plan set out a series of measures to tackle migrant smuggling, grouped into four main priorities:

  • enhanced police and judicial response
  • improved gathering and sharing of information
  • enhanced prevention of smuggling and assistance to vulnerable migrants
  • stronger cooperation with non-EU countries

This action plan has comprehensively delineated the area of the EU’s intervention and delivered tangible results. For example, with regard to the enhanced police and judicial response, these results include strengthening the counter smuggling capacity of Europol by creating the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, and increased information exchange and operational cooperation on migrant smuggling among Member States, in particular through the European multidisciplinary cooperation platform against criminal threats (EMPACT).

Single points of contact at national level have been established to coordinate on migrant smuggling, support was provided to combatting illicit financial flows linked to migrant smuggling, a mapping of training needs for law enforcement officers in the area of migrant smuggling was carried out and a thematic group for public prosecutors regarding migrant smuggling has been created at the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust).

As regards stronger cooperation with third countries, the EU action plan supported establishing operational cooperation against migrant smuggling with non-EU countries along the main migratory routes towards the EU in the form of bilateral and regional cooperation frameworks to address migrant smuggling. Furthermore, capacity building activities for police and judicial authorities in non-EU countries have been provided by developing common operational partnerships.

Operational cooperation

Operational cooperation between EU States' law enforcement agencies, relevant EU Agencies, and partner countries is crucial for clamping down on migrant smuggling. Through the EU policy cycle and its EMPACT priority ‘Facilitation of Illegal Immigration’, Member States, EU agencies and third countries coordinate common priorities and operational action to fight migrant smuggling.


The European Union Agency for law enforcement cooperation - Europol, plays a key role in supporting Member States' operational cooperation through the secure exchange of information, expertise and analytical support.

Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre supports Member States' investigations, including financial investigations, and increases cooperation and coordination among law enforcement agencies.

The Internet Referral Unit of Europol also contributes to the fight against migrant smuggling, by monitoring online content and referring pages linked to migrant smuggling criminal networks to the relevant online platforms for removal.


EU presence at the external borders is ensured also by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) which:

  • patrols the EU's external border
  • collects data and intelligence regarding smuggling routes and practices of criminal networks
  • provides support through satellite imagery in cooperation with other EU Agencies
  • provides support through operations in non-EU countries       

Other EU agencies

The following EU agencies also support the EU's action against migrant smuggling:

  • European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL)
  • European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust)
  • European Asylum Support Office (EASO)
  • Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA)
  • European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)  

Work with non-EU countries to prevent and combat migrant smuggling

The EU provides financial and technical assistance to non-EU countries to support them to tackle migrant smuggling at its source. This includes:

  • assisting in developing anti-smuggling strategies and legislation, in line with the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime  
  • conducting information and awareness raising campaigns on the risks of irregular migration and relevant alternatives
  • building the capacity of law enforcement and judicial bodies to investigate and prosecute smugglers
  • increasing the effectiveness of migration flows and border controls 

Common Operational Partnerships and immigration liaison officers

As part of the Partnership Framework, to better manage migration in cooperation with non-EU countries, the EU develops dedicated common operational partnerships  on migrant smuggling. These partnerships facilitate information sharing and joint cooperation between actors involved in the fight against migrant smuggling, including:

  • EU and Member State delegates
  • host country authorities
  • international organisations and immigration liaison officers (ILO)

The EU has also deployed European Migration Liaison Officers (EMLO) to ease cooperation between various international actors and local and national authorities.

Together with Immigration Liaison Officers from Member States and EU agencies, EMLOs are part of a global network of Liaison Officers for joint action in third countries.

Published studies

  • Needs assessment study for the development and implementation of strategies to counter migrant smuggling: the study examined strategies in Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea and ECOWAS.

Link to study

  • How West African migrants engage with migration information en-route to Europe: a study to strengthen the evidence base on communications for migration in West Africa and the Central Mediterranean route, as well as information gathering by migrants and asylum seekers travelling from West Africa to Europe.

            Link to study

  • A study of the communication channels used by migrants and asylum seekers in Italy, with a particular focus on online and social media: a comprehensive analysis of the information and communication channels that migrants use upon their arrival in Italy.

Link to study

Policy milestones

2020 The New Pact on Migration and Asylum

  • The New Pact offers a fresh start for managing migration for the long term, based on European values and international law.
  • In the context of the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, the Commission adopted a Guidance (C(2020)6470) aimed at clarifying that the EU rules on definition and prevention of the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence in the EU territory (the “Facilitators Package”) should not be interpreted in a way that allows humanitarian activities mandated by law to be criminalised.
  • The New Pact indicates that it will start the assessment to strengthen the effectiveness of the Employers Sanctions Directive and the need for further action. Implementation of the Employers Sanctions Directive is vital to address irregular migration by making sure that employment of irregular migrants is prohibited. The New Pact also calls for the development of a new EU action plan against migrant smuggling for the period 2021-2025.

2020: EU Security Union Strategy 2020-2025

  • The EU Security Union Strategy highlights as one of its priorities fight against organised crime including the transnational crimes such as smuggling of migrants.

2019: Creation of the European network of immigration liaison officers (ILOs)

  • Regulation on the ILOs ((EU) 2019/1240) aims at  ensuring better coordination and optimising the utilisation of the network of liaison officers deployed to third countries by the Member States in order to respond more effectively to preventing and combating illegal immigration and related cross-border criminality such as smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings, facilitating dignified and effective return, readmission and reintegration activities, contributing to integrated management of the Union’s external borders, as well as supporting management of legal immigration.

2017: Evaluation of the Facilitators Package

2016: Council Conclusions and the 2018 operational set of measures

  • The Council Conclusions adopted by the Justice and Home Affairs ministers on 10 March 2016 echo the commitments to advance concerted action at EU and international levels against migrant smuggling and set out concrete recommendations to Member States, the Commission and EU agencies. These were later formalised as operational set of measures published in 2018.

2009: Employers Sanctions Directive

  • This Directive prohibits the employment of illegally staying third-country nationals in order to fight illegal immigration. To this end, it lays down minimum common standards on sanctions and measures to be applied in the Member States against employers who infringe that prohibition.

2006: UN Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea

  • EU signs the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Council decisions 2006/616/EC and 2006/617/EC).

2002: Facilitators Package

Adopted together, the two instruments complement each other and are known as the Facilitators Package.

Under the Facilitators Package, any person who intentionally assists unauthorized entry, transit, or residence of a non-UE national in the EU, is to be sanctioned unless they are doing so for humanitarian reasons.


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