The differences between human smuggling and human trafficking.

Human trafficking and smuggling are sometimes interchangeably since they involve people’s movement and some form of exploitation. However, there exist some differences between trafficking and smuggling in their operation, structure, purpose and organization. Human trafficking is the act of cruising, recruiting, transporting and receiving people by the use of force, deception, fraud or abduction and making benefits from their exploitation. The traffickers use the victims’ vulnerability to obtain control and bend them according to their will for personal, financial or material gifts. The exploitation of trafficking victims may be sexual, forced labour, humiliation, removal of organs or other forms of slavery and servitude. On the other hand, human smuggling occurs when a person illegally enters a state he/she does not belong to directly or indirectly retrieves material or financial benefits from the act (Burke, n.d, p.104). In human smuggling, the smuggler and migrant come to terms and often money is involved in facilitating the process of illegal entry into a country.

               The significant difference between human trafficking and smuggling is the role of participants in the activities. In human trafficking, victims unwillingly get mixed up in the scandal while smuggling may be voluntary. Human traffickers manipulate their victims by using force such as kidnapping or drugging, deception or by fraud. In many cases, human trafficking victims do not know what will happen to them when falling under the traps of traffickers. The traffickers also threaten and drug the victims and utilize them as vessels of making profits (Cockbain et al., 2018,p.322). Migrants in human smuggling occasionally willingly strike deals with smugglers, and therefore, no force or violence is involved in the process. Moreover, the migrants may be aware of the consequences they may face when a state’s authority discovers them. The migrants may have financial ambitions in a foreign country when they contract smugglers. For instance, labour smuggling may be profitable and self-fulfilling to a migrant, unlike forced labour due to human trafficking. For human smuggling case, the participants are illegal actor while in human trafficking; there is a perpetrator and a victim.

Additionally, human trafficking is associated with organized crimes. The organized crime structure comprises people with different power and position in the leadership hierarchy for the prevalence of their activities. The people in the higher ranks issue orders and the others execute them accordingly. Human trafficking, therefore, is manned by a group of people who sees it through that the victims help them make profits. Human trafficking is a costly business, and the burden is mostly experienced by trafficking victims (Campana, 2015, p.5). Human trafficking structures are organized to reduce suspicion during recruitment, minimize exposure to authorities, or threaten residents of disclosing their information (Segrave, 2016, p 336). On the contrary, human smuggling can be managed by one or two people since it requires limited services. Smugglers may also be friendly to migrants since they want to retain a rigid relationship with the migrant’s relatives and friends for future business. Human traffickers are mainly ruthless and harsh to their clients.

               Although some trustworthiness is established in human smuggling and trafficking, the latter is short-lived after accomplishing their goal. Human trafficking agents may be temporally friendly to lure people to join their causes. The agents may fake certificates and documents to legitimize their activities to earn many clients. They may also treat their targets kindly at the beginning to enhance their trust and reveal their intentions when they in their grasp. In contrast, smuggling activities prevails when there is mutual trust between the parties. The relationship between the migrant and smuggler is maintained until the termination of the transaction. Human trafficking dehumanizes the victims, violates their rights and psychologically affects them during the process or may leave the victims with permanent marks in their lives even if they walk free (UN.GIFT, 2008, p 84). Human smuggling may not necessarily violate human rights if the migrant achieves their objectives in the foreign country. While human smuggling is an offence to a state, human trafficking is a criminal activity committed on the victim.

The recruitment process in human trafficking is a planned, organized and tactical one since it involves identifying the target and developing means of approaching the group. The abuse of the victims follows after they are cruised and recruited by traffickers. In many cases, people cross borders illegally due to wars, persecution, poverty, political instability and persecution in their home countries. Human smuggling involves crossing of borders while trafficking may be local or international. Human trafficking can also occur in neighbourhoods, and it calls for a thorough inspection to identify the activity (UN, 2014, p 11).

               Human trafficking and smuggling may become unclear when there are similarities in the activities. For instance, human smuggling may become an exploitative practice when a smuggler works for traffickers and sales the migrants to organized criminals. Alternatively, smuggling can be associated with forced labour, prostitution and slavery when the migrants lack employment in the foreign country. Human smuggling and trafficking are both illegal activities that may compromise human rights and interfere with a nation’s stability.  Migrants are vulnerable people who are suitable targets for traffickers in foreign countries. Human smuggling may also be associated with psychological distress like trafficking when things fail to go as expected.

An example of human smuggling occurred in 2013 when migrants journeyed illegally in a fishing boat from Libya to Italy. However, the ship collapsed and claimed the lives of hundreds of migrants (Campana, 2018, p.482). As illustrated in the definition of smuggling, the migrants willingly embarked on the boat due to their ambitions. An example of human trafficking is when trafficking agents advertise employment or scholarship opportunities to lure people to move to a foreign country. In a foreign country, travellers are forcefully sexually assaulted and forced to work. In this case, the human trafficking agents deceived the victims by false advertisement and forced them to prostitution against their will. The mutual friendship between the traffickers and the victims was also temporal and unauthentic since it aimed at achieving a particular quest. 


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Campana, P. 2015. The structure of human trafficking: Lifting the bonnet on a Nigerian transnational network. British Journal of Criminology56(1), 68-86 [Online]  Available from [Accessed 8 January 2020].

Campana, P. 2018. Out of Africa: The organization of migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean. European Journal of Criminology15(4), 481-502. [Online]  Available from  [Accessed 8 January 2020].

Cockbain, E., Bowers, K., & Dimitrova, G. 2018. Human trafficking for labour exploitation: The results of a two-phase systematic review mapping the European evidence base and synthesising key scientific research evidence. Journal of Experimental Criminology14(3), 319-360. [Online]  Available from [Accessed 8 January 2020].

Segrave, M. 2016. Review of collaborating against human trafficking: Cross-sector challenges and practices. Journal of Human Trafficking3(4), 335-337. [Online]  Available from [Accessed 8 January 2020].

UN.GIFT. 2008. An Introduction to Human Trafficking: Vulnerability, Impact and Action. [Online]  Available from [Accessed 8 January 2020].

UN. 2014. Human rights and human trafficking. Human Rights Documents online. [Online]  Available from . [Accessed 8 January 2020].

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