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Comparing and contrasting the war on drugs and the emerging war on migrant smugglers

There are those who seek to apply the experience of the war on drugs to the emerging war on migrant smugglers to warn that such a confrontation carries high costs, low chances of success and would likely lead to an escalation of violence against the migrants themselves. Such arguments suggest we should learn from the war on drugs’ failures, and design different policy and criminal justice responses to irregular migration and human smugglers so as not to repeat past and ongoing failures. This research report examines this hypothesis; that the war on drugs is analogous to the war on migrant smuggling and that the lessons derived from the war on drugs are applicable to current policy makers around migration. Using a compare-and-contrast analysis it looks at the intrinsic aspects of the commodities themselves (substances vs migrants), the dynamics and modalities of the respective illicit economies, the lessons learnt from the war on drugs, the policy environment and implications of using alternative approaches, namely ‘legalising’ drugs and/or new approaches, inter alia, towards decriminalizing irregular migration.

Date of Publication
Type of Resource
Target Audience
General Public
Source / Publisher
Geographic Scope
Workstream Output
Regional Review Process
Smuggling of migrants

*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).