The United Nations defines migrant smuggling as the “procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident.” It is illegally moving people across borders, usually at their request.
Human trafficking is characterized as activity which exploits another human being. The UN definition of human trafficking includes the recruiting, transporting, or harboring of people by means of threat, coercion, or fraud, for the purpose of exploitation. That exploitation can come in many different forms, including sexual exploitation, forced slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs.
There are some important legal distinctions to be made between human trafficking and migrant smuggling that are frequently overlooked. The most important, and the hardest to distinguish, is consent. Migrants consent to being smuggled and their relationship with the smuggler stops once they have reached their destination. As the law suggests, victims of human trafficking do not always consent to the end result of the transaction, even if at times they initially consent to what they think will be the end: a new job, for example; or being transported to a new location. The initial consent becomes legally irrelevant to the crime once the trafficker has used threat, coercion, or fraud to exploit the victim.