South Africa’s Smugglers’ Borderland

Tesfalem Araia, Tamlyn Monson

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


A research project on the human smuggling industry and its effects on would-be asylum seekers revealed that of those asylum seekers who crossed a land border into South Africa, a substantial majority entered via Zimbabwe.[1] Just over a fifth of these asylum seekers were smuggled, and the majority paid for the assistance they received. Asylum seekers were smuggled by – in order of prevalence – smugglers, transport operators, fellow immigrants, friends or relatives, and, alarmingly, state employees. Nearly a fifth of those who were smuggled were harmed in some way during their border crossing.

“I am the border”, a smuggler boasted, illustrating a key finding of the project. The demand for smuggling is manipulated by smugglers through deliberate deception of asylum seekers. The misinformation and deliberate omissions of smugglers create an imaginary border which, in the minds of prospective asylum seekers, is far more antagonistic and forbidding than the reality. As a result, undocumented entry via the services of a smuggler may appear to be the only means of entering South African territory. This encourages a trend toward undocumented border crossing even among those who would qualify for an asylum permit. The increased invisible population that results creates a problem for the state’s management of migration, as well as rendering would-be asylum seekers more vulnerable to abuse.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Specialist publicationForced Migration Review
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • human smuggling
  • Migration


Dive into the research topics of 'South Africa’s Smugglers’ Borderland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this