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MAPS – Migrants And People Smugglers: A Comparative Study of Smuggling Networks in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Central American corridors

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MAPS (MAPS – Migrants And People Smugglers: A Comparative Study of Smuggling Networks in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Central American corridors)

Período documentado: 2019-09-01 hasta 2020-08-31

MAPS departs from the idea that smugglers obey only to a profit-making logic, inviting instead for a more complex understanding of their roles; it argues that human smuggling is embedded within ethnic networks and local economies in origin and transit countries, and grounded on notions of solidarity and reciprocity. In so doing, I have expanded my previous work among Syrian migrants and smugglers by conducting a comparative study – of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Central American smuggling corridors. My goal was to carry out research and compare these two separate smuggling contexts in order to identify similarities and differences in the organizational structures of smuggling networks, the smuggler-migrant relationship, and the profile of the facilitators. In so doing, the research has provided me with a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of smuggling and the actors involved by bringing more attention to smugglers-migrants’ social interactions, local economies, and their shared moral worlds. To date, this has been the first project to explore smuggling comparatively on the ground and from the perspective of smugglers and their clients themselves. One of the most important achievements of this project has been to show how migrants’ agency can be deeply transformative of their situation and persona across very different contexts, even if it takes place in situations characterised by severe exploitation and a restricted range of options.
The project has achieved all its objectives and milestones for the period, with relatively minor deviations. These were due to the fact that the fellow had to go on parental leave for a total of 7 months. Also, as a result of the evolution of irregular migration across the Mediterranean, fieldwork in the Mediterranean was carried out in Italy and Greece and not in Turkey. However, these deviations have not affected the planned outputs but only the organisation of work and timing.

The fellow collected the following interviews

Migrants: 13 (Tijuana/San Diego); 14 (Tenosique); 13 (Mexico City); 10 (Guadalajara); 15 (Italy and Greece); Total = 65
Smugglers 9 (Tijuana/San Diego); 3 (Tenosique); 8 (Mexico City); 1 (Guadalajara); 7 (taly and Greece); Total = 28
Authorities 5 (Tijuana/San Diego); 1 (Tenosique); 6 (Mexico City); 2 (Guadalajara); 1 (Italy and Greece); Total = 15
Smuggling market actors 5 (Tijuana/San Diego); 4 (Tenosique); 5 (Mexico City); 1 (Guadalajara); 9 (Italy and Greece); Total = 24
Shelter/humanitarian actors 15 (Tijuana/San Diego); 3 (Tenosique); 7 (Mexico City); 3 (Guadalajara); 3 (Italy and Greece); Total = 26
Total 47 (Tijuana/San Diego); 25 (Tenosique); 34 (Mexico City); 27 (Guadalajara); 25 (Italy and Greece); Total = 158

In this respect, work has been conducted in excess of the planned objectives (which originally were a total of 140 semi-structured interviews). Field research in Mexico allowed me to 1) identify a specific cluster of migrants with whom I could develop a specific case-study (i.e. Honduran migrants); 2) identify and develop interactive relationships with specific smugglers living in the immediacy of the sheltersSecond, participant observation was conducted in occasion of the “migrant caravan” that on December 2018 left Honduras to reach Tijuana (Mexico). During this time, Dr. Achilli has travelled with the caravan from Mexico City to the US-Mexico border, living with migrants and trying to shadow their experience for three weeks in November 2018. Finally, documentary data were collected, such as documents, statistics and booklets on the issue of irregular migration and human smuggling produced by a variety of actors. Altogether, the fieldwork activities run for about 18 months. The data collection was completed in October 2019. After the conclusion of the outgoing phase (September 2019), the project has entered its last phase (which terminated on 2 May 2021). Again, the fellow produced a series of scientific publications in excess of the DoA, which includes: four peer-review articles, one article for a volume, four working papers/reports, three special issues (as editor and contributor), and two policy briefs. However, there have been a few minor deviations. Out of the four blog posts, only one was published. The fellow opted for a series of 7 newspaper articles, a TV presentation (for the programme “Scope”, hosted by Indus News Lahore, 2020), and a photo exhibition that tackled the topics of the originally scheduled blog posts. This dissemination activity was complemented by the launch of a photo exhibition at the EUI and its website, academic social media webpages and Twitter account. Furthermore, as per DoA, a book manuscript has been submitted to the publisher with the title “Global Migrant Smuggling” (John Hopkins University Press). Two other peer-review articles are forthcoming.
MAPS has gone beyond the state of art by examining the perspectives of irregular migrants, smugglers, and key actors (authorities, locals, etc.) simultaneously, comparatively and over time. Its main findings serve as a corrective to the still dominant assumption that that smugglers are merely criminal businessmen driven exclusively by profit. This assumption remains evident in much of the literature and is explained by the obvious difficulties in obtaining empirical data. In fact, while many recent studies on human smuggling represent empirical and theoretical advancements in the field, only a few of them have conducted extensive research with smugglers; and none of them have combined ethnographic research among smugglers with a comprehensive comparative study of two different geographical contexts. As the only study of this type, MAPS is providing a unique dataset. Moreover, the project is contributing to theory-building on irregular migration and human smuggling. By bringing the literature on smuggling into conversation with the anthropology of ethics and morality, MAPS has developed a new theoretical approach that incorporates also the moral economy of smuggling. We must consider how smuggling takes place within the context of a neoliberal global distribution of power where people in developing countries have overarching incentives to move but few legal avenues to do so. This discrepancy leads to the emergence of new moral landscapes where legal/illegal distinctions do not always make sense and different political economies compete.
In so doing, MAPS has further specified the current state of the art by pushing the boundaries of research relating to smuggling in three main ways:
a) Inter/multi-disciplinary methods: the project uses the methods and analytical tools of social anthropology and critical criminology with a view to achieving an in-depth understanding of human smuggling.
b) Comparative approach: in producing new and comparable empirical data, the project has currently extrapolated conclusion beyond these two-specific case-studies. Comparisons made across cases has assisted robust theory building that has been tested against diverse empirical settings.
c) Comprehensiveness: MAPS addressed policy and research gaps by examining the perspectives of irregular migrants, smugglers, and key actors (authorities, locals, etc.) simultaneously, comparatively and over time.
Schuman Shorts