Til bevillingsoversigt

The Criminalisation of Humanitarianism: From Volunteers to Human Smugglers in Italy

Carlsbergfondets internationaliseringsstipendier


In the context of Europe's recent migration crisis, human smuggling is characterized by most European governments as a heinous crime conducted by ruthless networks of smugglers whose nefarious trade needs to be stopped. Recent counter-smuggling operations, however, have involved not transnational crime members, but women and men who as part of humanitarian organizations volunteer to conduct rescue operations at EU borders seeking to save the lives of migrants trying to enter Europe. The aim of this postdoctoral project is to explore the criminalisation of humanitarianism.


The literature is revealing a critical fact: that the study of human smuggling has remained constrained to criminology and migration studies, while excluding the dynamics of peace and conflict studies. This research project brings to the forefront 'the criminalisation of humanitarianism': that is, the role of human smuggling as a new legal reality for civil society and NGOs. In specific, it explores SAR operations at sea in Italy through an interdisciplinary perspective, combining migration studies, criminology and peace and conflict studies. This interdisciplinary perspective will bring forward novel empirical data, that can shed light on what I frame 'the politics of humanitarianism': that is the transnational, national and local practices and perceptions of humanitarianism.


The project will follow everyday practices of volunteers from NGOs and civil society organisations active in Search and Rescue operations in Italy and their interactions with each other, local Italians, migrants and Italian state representatives. This will also include conducting interviews and following the newest political initiatives in the European Union on migration management. I will analyse these data through an interdisciplinary perspective, combining migration studies, criminology and peace and conflict studies. This has not been done before and will innovate the academic field and will enable me to explore how the fight against illegal migrants entering Europe has become a fight against the work of human smugglers, legitimizing a new legal and moral order.


This project will produce valuable data and policy recommendations for decision makers in the EU. Both of these are essential as the EU confronts the growing numbers of people dying in their attempts to reach Europe compared with the drastic decrease in arrivals and the need to define a legal stance in the light of international conventions.