Corruption (as it relates to smuggling) is an evil to our societies. But in whose “perspective”

Acts of corruption and human smuggling are always frowned upon. They are generalized too. Therefore, I propose we narrow down the focus to migrants and refugees for this piece; and we limit our discussion to two main stakeholders – the bad folks (corrupt officials and smugglers) and the vulnerable folks (refugees and migrants).

Without getting into many details, the so-called “refugee crisis” has been in conversation for many years, but it took momentum in the past decade due to many global phenomena.  The Syrian War, the civil war in South Sudan, the economic crisis in Venezuela, the Rohingya “genocide”, the decades-old conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and so on. Thanks to good networks of smugglers across the globe, some people retain hope and continue to see the sunrise and sunset – their natural right!

By definition, smuggling involves consent between, and is a means to desired ends by both, the bad folks and the vulnerable folks. Here is a scenario from “Refuge-e: The Journey Much Desired”:

“You pay to be smuggled—you pay all of the little money you have, and you borrow much more that you will repay once you have all the benefits of citizenship. You are happy for the journey, the smuggler is happy for the job, immigration officials are happy for their lion’s share as they have to provide the documents to let you through the border gates. The documents themselves will look official enough to deceive any traffic police officer, or at least those who are not in contact with the immigration officer. The border patrol recognizes the forgery and will have to be paid some money, not by the smuggler, not by the immigration officer whom they communicate with from time to time, but by you.” – J.M.Koffi, 2018  

This is corruption at its best.

In my perspective, situations termed “corruption” are either motivated by monetary gain or hope of improvement in someone’s welfare – just like the case above illustrates. But this raises many questions, especially two: who gains? At who’s expense? Majority discourses answer the latter. They contextualize corruption in relation to the decrease in a country’s social welfare because the more corrupt officials engage in shady deals, the less they are motivated to deliver services that they should be delivering to the general public. Hence, there is always an accurate conclusion that corruption is an evil. But if “who gains” was asked, the discourse would significantly change. This is partly what I want to highlight.

Image from Spiegel Online, 2015

Refugees’ choices are limited because they are forced to flee, and whether prepared or not, often there are no systems or institutions put in place to accommodate their immediate needs. For example; if your house has just been bombed or set ablaze, your last thought will be reaching for travel documents. If there is a larger scale civil war, you will hardly attempt to navigate the (nonexistent) bureaucracy applying for a passport or an equivalent laissez-passer. What then? You get into shady deals and sketchy associations with smugglers, corrupt officials, border patrols and so on. You do what is arguably right in efforts to fight for their survival.

In the given scenario, if you asked the smuggler, the immigration officer and the traffic police, they would most probably tell you they understand the plight of refugees and they are just helping. They wouldn’t admit that they are motivated by profit, personal gains. They are probably right! If you asked refugees, they are using the only alternative available to survive, to move to a place where they feel more secure, to attain a better-quality of life.

Then why is corruption, particularly in such contexts, a scam to the society?

Some will even want to build a wall and will magnify asylum seekers into a Caravan of terrorists. Such leaders are the real terrorists!

Narratives and the discourse associated with corruption are mostly one sided. Here are two reasons why:

1) It is the media capturing a story half-way, that is, from the time the vulnerable folks are being exploited by the bad folks. Rarely does the media take time to consider what led to that situation.

Taking the narrative a little back in time might help us to reconsider the stories, and possibly reorient the discourse. After all, in an African context for instance, who do you blame? The refugees who are irregularly/illegally crossing borders from DRC to Rwanda, South Sudan to Uganda, etc. ? Their failing governments due to exploitation and continued interference by foreign nations such as the former colonizers or modern superpowers? The dudes who eagerly sat around a table between 1884 and 1885 somewhere in Berlin and drew arbitrary borders, dividing communities previously united while clustering together warring kingdoms and chiefdoms? You decide!

2) It is political appeals to voters by instigating fear, suppressing ‘the other’ perspective and making false promises. Everywhere, refugees and migrants are just pawns in a big game of politics. The Brexit referendum and many recent elections in Western countries were defined by talks about migration, migrants, Asylum seekers and related discourse.  Anti-immigration rhetoric has put popularist leaders into offices, divided the European Union and continues to resound in policy discourse across the globe. Some will even want to build a wall and will magnify asylum seekers into a Caravan of terrorists. Such leaders are the real terrorists!

I am not advocating for corruption or smuggling.  I am simply suggesting that sometimes we have, and we focus on a single side of the story. We ignore the key stakeholders’ contributions, narratives and perspectives on what is really happening. The discourse centers on consequences rather than causes. The discourse seeks to enhance particular political agendas at the expense of people’s lives. The bad folks might have a choice in the situation; I doubt the vulnerable folks do!

For more information:

“The Billion-dollar Business of Refugee Smuggling” by Aljazeera:

“The trafficking and smuggling of refugees: the end game in European asylum policy?” by John Morrison and Beth Crosland:

“Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling” by Global Affairs Canada :

“What 500 elections in 28 European countries can tell us about the effects of anti-immigration rhetoric” by the Washington Post :


  1. In the UK, a person is officially a refugee when they have their claim for asylum accepted by the government. If the government agrees that an individual who has applied for asylum meets the definition in the Refugee Convention they will ‘recognise’ that person as a refugee and issue them with refugee status documentation.

    1. Thanks a lot for your comment Brittany! Indeed, that’s what all governments should be doing, and most of them across the world are trying to follow the right procedures to determine whether Asylum Seekers should get the Refugee Status. However, the lack of infrastructure and proper/properly funded institutions in some countries is what promotes smuggling and the culture of corruption. Refugees often have no other choice but to follow the latter means because governments and officials have failed them.

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