Humanitarian Smugglers? The EU Facilitation Directive and the Criminalisation of Civil Society

Laura Schack

Research output: Other contribution


Humanitarian actors helping refugees and migrants in Europe have repeatedly faced accusations and charges of migrant smuggling in the last years. The 2019 arrest of Carola Rackete, the Sea Watch captain, is perhaps the most well-known example, but it is only one of many. For example, at least nine volunteers in Greece conducting search and rescue activities on Lesvos island were arrested and charged for human smuggling, five in 2016 and four in 2018. In Denmark, almost 300 people were prosecuted and fined for human smuggling in 2016 for helping refugees who were passing through the country. And in 2017, the Iuventa, the search and rescue ship belonging to the NGO Jugend Rettet, was confiscated in Italy while its crew continue to face charges for human smuggling which could result in over 20 years in prison. The criminal charges laid against these humanitarian actors are based on the Facilitation Directive, the EU’s legal framework for tackling human smuggling. This is due to the way in which the directive’s ambiguous formulation, which deviates from the UN definition of migrant smuggling and only includes an optional humanitarian exemption, leaves ample space for European authorities to target people and organisations helping refugees and migrants. Given the shrinking space within which pro-migrant civil society can act, a revision of the Facilitation Directive would send a decisive and vital message.
Original languageEnglish
TypeBlog Post
Media of outputBorder Criminologies
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • EU Facilitation Directive
  • Smuggling
  • Criminalisation
  • Civil Society
  • Refugee Crisis
  • Europe

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