Criminalisation of kindness: narratives of legality in the European politics of migration containment

Galya Ben-Arieh, Volker M. Heins*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This article explores the emergence of the crime of migrant smuggling and its legitimising narratives as tools of global migration management. We examine the ways in which the language of ‘migrant smuggling’ was introduced into and then lifted out of the context of international law and recontextualised to serve the purposes of migration management. The main consequence of this fusion of law, narrative and policy is the redefinition of the legality of actors and actions along the migration routes across the Sahara, the Mediterranean and Europe. We examine the conflict between two dominant narratives of legality: the smuggler narrative vs the rescue narrative. Laws designed to protect people are being turned against the people they were ostensibly designed to protect. We argue that the smuggler narrative facilitates policies whereby wealthy states, under the pretence of law, contain migration from the South within the broader framework of a divisive global politics of life. Since these policies are implemented through bribery, blackmail and brute force, they are displaying the ugly face of global migration governance without contributing in any way to a solution of the problems driving migration in the current global environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-217
Number of pages18
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Global South
  • Migration and refugees
  • governance
  • human rights

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development


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