Kara Ross Camarena, Sarah Claudy, Austin L. Wright

Human Smuggling under Risk: Evidence from the Mediterranean

Since 2007, the number of refugees fleeing conflict and violence has doubled to about 25 million. Although mass migration has destabilized the European Union, lead to broad changes in national immigration policies, and triggered the resurgence of far right, xenophobic political parties, human smuggling has attracted little attention in political science. We address this gap by theorizing key features of the political economy of smuggling. We emphasize the importance of reputational dynamics within smuggling networks which create long-term economic incentives to avoid risks, particularly in the Mediterranean sea. We leverage granular data on migrant flows across the Mediterranean, coupled with information about sea routes, riots at port cities, and wave conditions, to test our theoretical argument. We find strong evidence consistent with our argument that smugglers strategically minimize the probability of potential harm to migrants, especially while at sea. This finding may represent an opportunity for targeted policy interventions.

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The University of Chicago