People smuggling

Why people smuggling threatens all Australians

People smugglers are individuals or groups who assist others to illegally enter a country. In the case of Australia, people smugglers provide air or sea access.

People smuggling is a threat to all Australians because:

  • there are serious security and criminal concerns when people arriving in Australia are not properly identified
  • there are major quarantine and health risks involved in people bypassing lawful immigration channels
  • processing illegal immigrants creates significant logistical problems and costs
  • it infringes the sovereignty of Australia's borders.

The laws surrounding people smuggling fall under Division 12 of the Migration Act 1958.

People smuggling versus people trafficking

Although the terms people smuggling and people trafficking are often used interchangeably, they are different. People smugglers are paid by those who wish to enter a country illegally. The people wishing to migrate are involved voluntarily. People traffickers, on the other hand, use coercion and/or deception, to force people to illegally enter a country. Once the illegal immigrants are in place, people traffickers often continue to exploit them.

NB: There are instances where the distinctions between smuggling and trafficking are blurred.

Dealing with people smuggling

The Joint Agency Task Force (JATF) Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) was established on 18 September 2013 to implement a whole-of-government effort to combat people smuggling and protect Australia's borders.

OSB is a military-led, border security operation supported and assisted by a wide range of Australian Government agencies. As part of the JATF, the AFP leads the multi-agency Disruption and Deterrence Task Group.

Whole-of-government role

The AFP maintains a pivotal place in a number of intergovernmental forums that provide high-level guidance for operations and policy responses to unauthorised arrivals by boat to Australia. The AFP shares membership of these forums with:

  • Department of Home Affairs
  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Australian Border Force
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including the Ambassador for People Smuggling
  • Australian intelligence community
  • Attorney-General's Department

An international effort

Technological advances, including the widespread availability of fraudulent documentation, have prompted a maturing of the criminal activities undertaken by people smugglers. There is a greater awareness of policing abilities and methodology, and preparatory and overt acts are being conducted in more than one jurisdiction. It has become apparent that people smugglers are acting regionally rather than locally in one country.

It is therefore imperative that intelligence sharing opportunities should be pursued in source and transit countries across the region. This is delivered through AFP International Operations which works closely with police agencies in a number of countries to facilitate the liaison and coordination required to disrupt maritime people smuggling ventures.

The AFP also delivers capacity building initiatives to enhance the capacity of regional law enforcement partners.

The AFP also participates in a number of international forums specifically created to address people smuggling. These include the Bali Process that brings participants together to work on practical measures to help combat people smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crimes in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Initiated at the Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime held in Bali in February 2002, the Bali Process follow-up is a collaborative effort participated in by more than 50 countries and many international agencies.

More information

If it doesn't add up, speak up. Call the National Security Hotline - 1800 123 400.

Read the AFP Annual Report 2021-22

Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation - visit website

Policing and community news from the AFP