People smuggling is both necessary and inevitable

James C. Hathaway, a distinguished visiting professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, writes in Canada’s National Post in defence of human smuggling for refugees. Why?

Does this mean that human smuggling is justified? In a way, yes. Canada and other developed countries created the market on which smugglers depend by erecting (literal and virtual) migration walls around their territories. The more difficult it is to get across a border to safety on one’s own, the more sensible it is to hire a smuggler to navigate the barriers to entry. Smugglers are thus the critical bridge to get at-risk people to safety. Which one of us, if confronted with a desperate need to flee but facing seemingly impossible barriers, would not seek out a smuggler to assist us?

Canada could avoid its current dilemma by taking the lead on getting governments to agree to a system of refugee responsibility-sharing that would ensure that smugglers are not essential to a refugee’s ability to access real and durable protection. We could then pursue border control without fear of indirectly punishing genuine refugees (not just the smugglers).

But if we are not willing to shoulder that political burden, then we should accept that non-exploitative, plain old human smuggling is both inevitable and — sadly — critical to ensuring that immigration rules do not operate so as to keep genuine refugees away. Our migration control system will not be watertight. But with Canada now hosting less than one-half of 1% of the world’s refugees, we are in no position to claim anything remotely approaching hardship, much less the critical threat that the government alleges.