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Moving in a divided world - Transnational crime, national borders and ­ irregular migration

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Antje Missbach
Professor of Sociology
Bielefeld University

Luigi Achilli
Professor of Social Anthropology
European University Institute

Soledad Álvarez Velasco
Professor of Migration and the Americas
Heidelberg University

Photo by TF3000 (Pixabay)
Call for Papers

Reports about global criminal networks taking over clandestine routes have stoked fears about irregular migration becoming a breeding ground for transnational crime, such as human trafficking, human smuggling, and drug trafficking. Research on the topic has mushroomed over the last decade, but the actual interaction between these crimes and irregular migration remains under-explored and under-theorised. A simple explanation of the so-called “crime-migration nexus” comes from mainstream academic and policy writing on what is conventionally called “transnational organised crime”. Studies have argued that omnipotent criminal conglomerates have systematically enslaved vulnerable migrants, and the relationship between migrants and criminal actors tends to be subsumed under the catch-all category of “modern slavery”. In this framework, interactions are characterised primarily by their non-consensual nature. However, critical scholars have challenged this approach on empirical, epistemological and methodological grounds, revealing the core processes and structures that lead to crime and exploitation. All critiques converge on one core point: if we are currently witnessing an overlap of transnational crime with irregular migration, this is largely due to states imposing increasingly restrictive migration policies. They create a breeding ground for transnational crime by exacerbating migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation, forcing them into crime for survival and creating the need for clandestine mobility services.

Nevertheless, the way irregular migrants interact with transnational crime and implications in terms of both migratory trajectories and crime formation remain a black box. If it is correct to claim that immigration policies and technologies produce illegality as critical scholarship does, then it is necessary to understand how migrants themselves participate in this process. Yet we still know very little about the participation of migrants in transnational crime and how this affects their journeys, experiences and expectations. Most importantly, what we lack is a systematic theorisation of the participation of migrants in transnational crime.

This workshop will be the first event to critically address the complex social and cultural dynamics underlying the encounter between transnational crime and irregular migration. It will generate unique insights into how this encounter reshapes social categories and social formations, alters the lived experience of mobility, and creates new horizons of actions and spheres of possibility amongst irregular migrants. In so doing, this event seeks to energise a body of scholarship that, despite its importance in present global population flows, has remained silent amidst the onslaught of monolithic narratives of tragedy and despair. This workshop aims to overcome fragmented, one-sided perspectives on the socio-cultural dynamics of the migratory journey, by redirecting attention to the relationships between mobility facilitators, migrants and related community dimensions. Mapping the political economy of mobility, the workshop will draw together a collective of mobility and crime by problematising simplistic generalisations and representations connected to the interaction of migration with transnational criminal phenomena. Instead of relying on state-centred narratives on human smuggling/ trafficking and other forms of transnational organised crime, this workshop seeks to develop actor-centred understandings for why, where, when and how unsanctioned border crossings appear to scrutinise widespread assumptions on clandestinity, resistance to global apartheid, solidarity and loss of (state) control.

Potential workshop sessions seek to cover the following topics:

  • Moral  and political economies behind migrants’ interaction with human smuggling and other forms of transnational crime
  • Comparative and historical perspectives on the facilitation of irregular migration, particularly the shifts and rifts in philosophical, ethical and moral dimensions that underline state approaches and public opinion
  • Labour aspects within the smuggling/trafficking industry: Are there any victims beyond “modern day slaves”?
  • Race, class, gender, age and demographic shifts as manifested in practices of facilitating irregular migration and related research
  • Role of stakeholders in combatting/ preventing/ punishing irregular migration and related transnational crime (e.g. IOM,UNODC,Frontex,CBP,ICE)
  • Global migration governance and domestic law initiatives on anti-people smuggling/trafficking measures, particularly on the ground law enforcement and prevention campaigns (e.g. risks, side-effects and consequences)
  • Etiology of violence and victimization in irregular migration
  • New approaches in theory and methods in research on transnational crime and mobility, and their implications and critiques (particularly big data, new technology and digitalized research)
  • Irregular migration, profitability and formal/informal sectors
  • Trans-local/trans-regional/global patterns in the interaction between irregular migration and transnational crime: Learning from comparative case studies/new migration corridors?
  • Alleged and actual entanglements of irregular migration with transnational crime

The workshop will be held on 11 July—13 July 2022* at Bielefeld University in Germany. If you are interested in participating in this workshop, please send us an abstract (300 words) and a mini-bio (100 words) to by 3 October 2021. Selected participants will be informed by mid-October 2021. The conference organisers will apply for funding to reimburse travel expenditures and accommodation for active presenters and discussants.

We very much welcome applications from junior scholars, including PhD candidates and academics from the Global South.

* Please pay attention to this new date. The workshop will not be held from 30 Juni - 1 July, but from 11 July - 13 July 2022.

Co-funded by Fritz Thyssen Stiftung


  • Antje Missbach (Bielefeld, GER)
  • Soledad Álvarez Velasco (Heidelberg, GER)
  • Luigi Achilli (Florence, ITA)

11 – 12 (13) July 2022


The poster for the ZiF Workshop "Moving in a Divided World" is available here.



© Universität Bielefeld/R. Moltmann

Group Photo of the Workshop Participants

Monday, 11 July




9:00 – 10:15

Welcome by ZiF

Welcome by Andreas Vasilache (Dean, Faculty of Sociology)

Welcome and logistics/conceptual remarks by
Antje Missbach, Luigi Achilli and Soledad Álvarez Velasco


10:15 – 10.30



10.30 – 12.00

Panel One
NoVictims” or “Criminals”: Problematizing Dichotomies


Ophelia Nicole-Berva

“Smugglers or ‘in solidarity’? How migrants’ interactions with activists affect moral discourse on mobility”

Natalie Chwalisz

“Smuggler? Criminal? Friend? Service provider? Undocumented migrants reflect on their experience travelling”,

Hannah Pool
“Our Qajaqbar understands” – A Moral Economy of Human Smuggling from Afghanistan to Germany

Discussant Klaus Neumann


12:00 – 13:30



13:30 – 15:00

Panel Two
Agents of Change: the Migrant Struggle amid Exploitation and Violence


Luigi Achilli

“The ‘dark side’ of agency: transnational crime and minors on the move along the Eastern Mediterranean corridor”

Nabil Ferdaoussi

“Reframing Border Violence: The Role of Migrant Activists in Subverting Border Regimes at the Moroccan-Spanish Borderlands”

Louis Vuilleumier

“Negotiating deviant entrepreneurship”

Wayne Palmer (presenter) and Antje Missbach

“Take me home: The role of smugglers in return migration and clandestine border crossings in Batam, Indonesia”

Discussant David Kyle


15:00 – 15:15

Coffee break


15:15 – 16.45

Panel Three
Transnational Digital Spaces of Irregularized Border Crossings: Between Everyday Digitalization, Solidarity and Violence


Francisca Sassetti (presenter) and Luiz Guilherme Natalio de Mello

“Misinformation and Hate Speech against Migrants in Social Media: an analysis of the Migrant Caravans from Central America”

Conor Sanchez


Domila do Prado Pazzini

“From Brazil to Mexico: Haitian mobility in Latin America”

Soledad Alvarez Velasco

“Between Trochas and Coyotes: Spatial Migrant Struggles in the Migratory Corridors in the Americas” 

Discussant Inka Stock


16.45 – 17:00



17:00 – 18.15


Gabriella Sanchez

“The pressure to Condemn: Researching Smuggling in the Time of Security”

Introduction Soledad Alvarez Velasco

Further information about the lecture and the link to the livestream are available here.



Dinner at Numa Obernstraße 26, 33602 Bielefeld


Tuesday, 12 July


9:30 – 11:00


Panel Four
Beyond Human Trafficking and Smuggling: Gangs, Soldiers, and illicit Entrepreneurship

Dostin Lakika

“Between informality and (il)legality: Former Congolese soldiers’ survival mechanismsin South Africa”

Michael A. Paarlberg

“Reimagining Transnational Crime with Central America’s Maras”

Abdul-lateef Awodele

“Survival Through Backdoor: Smuggling and Economics in Practice Among Nigerian Petrol Smugglers Across Nigeria-Benin Border”

Jonathan S. Parhusip

“Beyond Human Trafficking and Smuggling: Migrant Crews in Taiwan Fishing and Shipping Industries”

Discussant Antje Missbach


11:00 – 11:15

Coffee break


11:15 – 12:45

Panel Five
Age, Gender and Race in “Modern Slavery”


Masha Hassan

„Passeurs‘ of Ventimiglia: An Ethnographic Study of the South”

Anna Malgorzata Rajkowska

“Jihadi returnees: The case of the Turkish women who joined the Islamic State (IS)”

Temitope Akinleye

“Irregular African Migration and Modern Slavery: the Case of Female Youth in Nigeria”

Discussant Paolo Campana


12:45 – 13:45




Panel Six
The “Micro” Dynamics of Migrants Smuggling and Human Trafficking


Paolo Campana

“Unpacking the Structure of Human Smuggling: A Social Network Analysis Approach”

Tabea Scharrer

“Of Mukhala and Magafe: Emic meaning-making of mobility facilitation and human trafficking by Somalis crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean”

Tauqeer Hussain Shah

“The Thirsty Man Goes to the Well: Negotiations between Aspired Migrants and Agents - A Study of Irregular Migration from Pakistan to Europe”

Nancy Porsia


Discussant Luigi Achilli


15:15 – 15.30 

Coffee break


15:30 – 17:00

Panel 7
Whose Best Interest?
Regional Cooperation and International Approaches in Smuggling Policy


Leonie Jegen

“Constructing and contesting ‘best interest’ in Senegal’s legal migration capacity building programmes”

Ruta Nimkar 

“From the Outside In: How do Externalisation Policies Interact with Perceptions of Migrants and Smugglers?”

Susanne Willers

“Contested mobility in times of the COVID 19-pandemic and border enforcement: experiences of transit and immobility in the Central American/ Mexican/ US Migration Corridor”

Discussant Soledad Álvarez Velasco


17:15 – 17:30

Coffee break


17:30 – 18:30


David Kyle: “Smuggling ‘Creativity’ in the Meritocracy of Global ‘Talentism’”

Introduction: Luigi Achilli

Wrap up & Closure: Conference Organisers

Further information about the lecture and the link to the livestream are available here.


19:00 – 20:00

Dinner at ZiF


Wednesday, 13 July – Excursion




Direct train from Bielefeld to Berlin – Arrival: 10:14 am

Guided tour at the Berlin Wall Museum and Q and A with Joachim Neumann

-> Rahmenfarbe von Tab-Gruppen in Grau umstellen. -> Ohne Anpassung: Farben sind manchmal Uni-Grün.

Sidebar: Oberen Separator ausblenden und Inhalt hochsetzen

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