Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Criminalising the Facilitation of Freedom of Movement: Introduction


Camille Gendrot
PhD Candidate, Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne University
Deanna Dadusc
Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Brighton


Time to read

5 Minutes

 Guest post by Camille Gendrot, Deanna Dadusc, the Captain Support Network and the Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research. Camille Gendrot  is a PhD Candidate at the Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne University/ Collaborative Institute on Migration (ICM), and member of Watch the Med - Alarm Phone, of the Captain Support Network and of the Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research. Deanna Dadusc is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Brighton, and member of Watch the Med - Alarm Phone, of the Captain Support Network, and of the Feminist Autonomous Centre for ResearchCaptain Support Network is a platform founded by activists in solidarity with those criminalised for  driving boats to Europe, and to connect them to local support networks and legal aid. The Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research is a community-based research centre nourishing the autonomous roots of feminisms. It organises the annual Feminist No Border Summer School, and dedicates a research strand on the ‘Borders, abolition and resistance’. This is the first post of Border Criminologies’ themed series 'Criminalising the Facilitation of Freedom of Movement' organised by Camille Gendrot and Deanna Dadusc. 


captain support
Captain Support Flier

Over the past two decades, from Palermo to Dover, from Lesvos to Berlin, anyone facilitating freedom of movement and operating outside of governmental structures has been facing various forms of criminalisation. 

Both in the Global South and the Global North, the means to travel have been the target of states’ criminalisation efforts in their attempt to control mobilites: from the person facilitating the journey, interpreters and mediators, or people who provide aid, food or shelter to their communities along the routes, to the means of transportation, including boats or trucks.

Whilst most of the attention is placed on the criminalisation of European - often white - people acting in solidarity with people on the move, the ‘migrant saviours’, ‘solidarians’ and ‘rescuers’, including search-and-rescue boat captains and crews, little attention is given to people, often on the move themselves, facilitating freedom of movement and often acting in solidarity with one another (Dadusc and Mudu, 2021).

Whilst often they are approached as separate issues, with the first becoming the object of solidarity campaigns aimed at decriminalisation of human right defenders, we cannot understand one without the other. The criminalisation of these differentiate groups is part of the same continuum of violence; both deflect attention from the structural violence of borders and are embedded in the formation of a racial apartheid in Europe and beyond. Differentiating between those criminalised for their solidarity with people on the move and people on the move themselves perpetuates power structures and white saviourism, where white people’s lives and freedom are placed above, and valued more, than others.

The criminalisation of solidarity towards and between people on the move is a key component of border violence. People on the move are facing extremely long prison sentences based on arbitrary trials. Accused of 'smuggling' or 'facilitating illegal entry', they are the first targets of the carceral violence of the border regime facing charges between 6 months to life in prison. This is the case for boat drivers, amongst others, who find themselves risking their lives when driving precarious dinghies across the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean Sea, the English Channel or the Atlantic Ocean. Yet, they are rarely supported by demonstrations and campaigns, as much as white EU activists who face criminalisation for sea rescue or solidarity acts. 

Placing the focus on facilitation as the ‘practice’ that becomes the object of criminalisation rather than on the actors, brings to light that most forms of facilitation are a product of, and a necessity derived from, the creation of borders and the consequent criminalisation of migration.  Whilst each of these actors is affected by criminalisation differently, the notion of facilitation allows us to reflect on this continuum of criminalisation, without fabricating differentiations between the migrant activist, the host, the sea rescuer or the lorry or boat driver. 

Associations and civil society organisations including Captain Support, ARCI Porco Rosso, Watch-the-Med Alarm Phone, borderline-europe, Legal Centre Lesvos, Clinica Legale Roma Tre, Aegean Migrant Solidarity and El Hiblu Campaign, are conducting research to analyse practices of criminalisation of people on the move and of boat drivers particularly. This research is based on active engagement with migrant communities, and produces both theoretical analysis and practical knowledge to support criminalised individuals, including legal aid and advice as well as distributing useful information to prevent criminalisation. In this themed series, in collaboration with the above associations that currently form the Captain Support Network, we seek to deconstruct how the facilitation of migration is mostly understood through state-centred frameworks. In these interventions, we seek to address the multiple implications of the politics of criminalisation of facilitation, such as the discursive, political and legal implications both on a local and on a European level. We collectively provide a counter-narrative to the one of violence and coercion on the side of allegedly violent and profit-seeking smugglers against people labelled as vulnerable victims who, according to this logic, should be protected by the state through the creation of stronger borders.

Borders and border regimes are punitive and carceral institutions; they require  the criminalisation and exploitation of people on the move to create regimes of immobility. Whilst we acknowledge that people encounter interpersonal violence in their journeys, this needs to be contextualised within the violence and coercion of global inequality and immobility regimes. The construction of facilitation as a violent crime is the result of    punitive and carceral border regimes that blame facilitators as those guilty for border violence, thereby obscuring the politics of those practices which pose themselves in transgression, refusal, defiance and un-compliance of the logic of the border regime. 

Drawing on critical research on the criminalisation of people on the move acting in solidarity with one another or facilitating each other’s journeys (Spener 2011, Sanchez 2017, Keshavarz and Khosravi 2022, Mengiste 2018, Sanchez 2017) we re-frame facilitation as a service, either paid or unpaid, provided by skilled community actors or heterogenous networks in the context of a violent border regime.  Rather than a violent practice, facilitation can be intended as a set of informal and often illegalised practices and strategies based on sharing knowledge or resources which support people in navigating militarised and dangerous routes (Mengiste 2018). Alternatively known as pilots, captains, drivers, co-travellers or agents/brokers, facilitators are often perceived by the communities of people on the move as service providers, expert guides, friends, people in mutual solidarity and sometimes heroes, rather than violent criminals who profit on migrants whose vulnerability is constructed around racialized and gendered categories (Achilli 2018, Spener 2011, Zhang et al 2018).

The claim of innocence is often a central part of the legal struggle defending boat drivers and other facilitators from criminalisation. The narrative of innocence versus guilt can be legally useful in the defence of individuals who might face years in prison, but it can be problematic from a broader legal and political perspective. Politically, assuming that there are either innocent or guilty facilitators means adopting the gaze and the logic of the border regime. This legitimises the violent intervention of European states and authorities, and erases their responsibility and accountability for producing violence, death and suffering through the very creation of borders. Moreover, the process and continuum of criminalisation is not only a tool of incarceration, but also an attempt to depoliticise struggles against borders, as well as to weaken any form of migrant self-organisation and solidarity.  From this perspective, we seek to take distance from an evaluation of guilt/innocence, or deserving/undeserving of criminalisation. 

From here, we aim to then create alliances and solidarities across all those who facilitate freedom of movement and who are criminalised for it, rather than internalising differentiations between good and bad facilitators. From this perspective we can build a decolonial and abolitionist analysis where the abolition of borders becomes the necessary process for the decriminalisation of any form of facilitation of migration.



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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

C. Gendrot and D. Dadusc. (2023) Criminalising the Facilitation of Freedom of Movement: Introduction. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2023/06/criminalising-facilitation-freedom-movement. Accessed on: 27/05/2024

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