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Different geographies and experiences of 'assisted' types of migration: a gendered critique on the distinction between trafficking and smuggling

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This article presents three stories of female migrants who were assisted in their migration process from the Horn of Africa, Iraq and the former Soviet Union to the Netherlands. The stories are contextualized within the results of a wider research project on assisted migration involving 56 interviews and demonstrate the diverse practices and experiences of women's assisted migration. By 'assisted' is meant the assistance certain migrants need in order to be able to cross borders, given the lack of legal channels available to them - a process usually talked about as smuggling or trafficking. The article argues that the policy discourse surrounding these assisted types of migration is highly gendered, reproduces stereotypes and completely ignores the wider context in which these movements take place. The fact that for some women from certain parts of the world there are no other options than to travel in this particular way, and that the risks involved in migration can be relatively low compared to the risks faced at 'home', is rarely acknowledged in accounts of human smuggling or trafficking. Moreover, framing assisted female migrants as victims can lead to the generalization that all migrant women are at risk and need to be protected. This, in turn, may lead to protective policy measures that often restrict women's choices even further.

Keywords: agency; gender; human smuggling; human trafficking; irregular migration

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Urban and Regional Research Centre Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Publication date: April 1, 2011

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