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People smuggling


People smugglers are individuals or groups who assist others to enter a country through irregular methods. In the case of Australia, people smugglers provide air or sea access.

People smuggling is a crime under Australian law and it puts lives at risk. To break the people smugglers' business model it is important that those who make people smuggling their business face the full force of Australian law.

People smuggling is of concern to the Australian Government because:

  • there are serious security and criminal concerns when people arriving in Australia are not properly identified
  • it infringes Australia's sovereignty, giving us less control over our borders

People smuggling and human trafficking

People smuggling is a very different crime from human trafficking.

People smuggling is the organised, irregular movement of people across borders on a payment-for-service basis, whereas human trafficking is the physical movement of people domestically or across borders through deceptive means, coercion or force.

Importantly, people traffickers are motivated by the prospect of exploiting their victims once they reach the destination country.

Australia's response

The Australian Government is committed to targeting criminal groups who organise, participate in and benefit from people smuggling activities. The government has a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to tackling people smuggling. Australia works with other governments and organisations to prevent people smuggling and prosecute the perpetrators.

The Australian Government believes that international cooperation is one of the most effective ways to address irregular migration in the region. The Australian Government engages with regional partners both bilaterally and as a participant in multilateral forums and a range of conferences, workshops and working groups on irregular migration and border security issues.

The Joint Agency Task Force Operation Sovereign Borders was established on 18 September 2013 to ensure a whole-of-government effort to combat people smuggling and protect Australia’s borders. Operation Sovereign Borders is a military-led, border security operation supported and assisted by a wide range of Australian Government agencies, including the Department of Home Affairs. For more information, visit Operation Sovereign Borders.

Ministers at the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime (the Bali Process) agreed to establish a regional cooperation framework in March 2011.

The framework represents a significant step forward and a clear recognition by Bali Process members of the need for a cooperative international response to an enduring and complex regional and global challenge.

The framework lays the foundation for the implementation of practical bilateral and sub-regional arrangements that will contribute to a sustainable regional response. Australia will continue to work with other interested countries in the region to implement the framework.

Key measures include:

  • prosecution - the prosecution strategy relies on foreign and Australian prosecution of people smugglers
  • disruption - the disruption strategy consists of providing actionable intelligence to inform the actions of foreign law enforcement and prevent maritime ventures before they leave for Australia
  • capacity building - the capacity building strategy is focused on enhancing the capacity of the Indonesian law and policy