On these pages you will find information on what human trafficking and smuggling are, how the EU works to prevent these crimes, punish the offenders and protect the victims.
You will also find out how the EU deals with children from outside the EU who travel alone to EU countries.
You will also find information on staying in an EU Country without permission and on returning to your own country.
For information on what human trafficking is and what the EU is doing for addressing it, please visit the website Together Against Trafficking in Human Beings.
What is migrant smuggling?
People are smuggled into an EU country when they are helped to enter the country without authorisation. This normally happens by getting help to evade border controls or by getting false or fake travel or identity documents, which can lead to hazardous and dangerous situations for those being smuggled.
Preventing Migrant Smuggling
What do EU countries do to prevent migrant smuggling?
EU countries are improving border controls to ensure a smooth passage for those who visit a country legally while better detecting illegal activities and preventing irregular entries. EU countries are also including so called biometric elements – such as face recognition – in their citizens’ passports and travel documents aimed at preventing and fighting fraudulent activities. EU Agencies support Member States, for instance the European Border and Coast Guard Agency support Member States in border management, while Europol's European Migrant Smuggling Centre support Member States in fighting this form of cross-border crime.
Measures are also in place to punish migrant smugglers.
How are smugglers punished?
There are EU-wide laws for penalties for convicted smugglers in 26 EU countries, excluding Denmark who has decided not to participate.
Under these laws, convicted smugglers can be:
- Imprisoned, in cases where the smuggler has received financial benefits;
- Removed from an EU country;
- Banned from carrying out the job they were doing at the time of the offence.
Any vehicle used for the offence can be confiscated. On top of the EU-wide rules, individual EU countries may also have additional penalties for convicted smugglers.
What risks could I face if I am smuggled into an EU country?
If you are smuggled into an EU country, you will not have the right to be there.
You may have to pay fines and may be returned to your home country. Each EU country sets its own penalties for unauthorised entry or stay.
If you are staying in the EU without permission, you may also face difficulties in getting a job, a place to live and accessing education and health care. This could lead to further risks and possible exploitation.
How do I avoid these risks?
You should be very careful before accepting a promise of entry into an EU country, as this could be a sign that an illegal migrant smuggling network is at work.
You should instead contact your diplomatic or consular authorities about how to legally enter an EU country, either for short-term or long-term stays.
Is there any support available for me if I have been smuggled into an EU country?
Non-EU citizens who have been smuggled into the EU may be able to get a temporary residence permit in some EU countries if they cooperate with the police in bringing their smugglers to justice.
If you are a non-EU citizen under 18 years of age and would like to come to an EU country on your own, it is important to follow the proper procedures. Otherwise you will be an irregular migrant and may have to return home.
Children arriving in an EU country alone are protected until a durable solution is found. Durable solutions should be determined in the interest of the child and shall consist of either:
- return and reintegration in the country of origin; or
- granting of a legal status allowing minors to integrate in the EU country.
EU policy is based on the respect for the rights of the child as set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2010, the EU adopted an Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors which proposed an EU-wide approach to dealing with non-EU children who arrive in EU countries without adult companions. In April 2017, The Commission adopted a Communication on the protection of children in migration.
If you are a citizen of a country outside the EU, you cannot stay in an EU country without authorisation. If you do, you will be in an irregular situation and must leave the EU.
There are EU-wide rules that set out minimum standards and procedures for the return of irregular migrants to their home countries, or in some cases to other non-EU countries. These rules apply in 26 EU countries (all but Ireland), as well as in four non-EU countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).
On this page you will find out what to expect if you are found to be staying in one of these countries without permission.
Staying in an EU Country without permission
Under what conditions would my stay in an EU country be considered irregular?
If you do not fulfil, or no longer fulfil the conditions for entering or staying in an EU country, you do not have the permission to be there and must leave the EU.
This could be the case if you do not have a proper visa or residence permit, if you stay in the country after your visa or permit has expired, or has been withdrawn (for example, if you do not longer fulfil the applicable conditions).
What happens if I am found to be staying illegally in an EU country?
If you are found to be staying illegally in the EU you will get a “return decision.”
A return decision, from the immigration authorities, a court, the police or other authorities, will state that your stay is illegal and will oblige you to leave the country.
While you will generally be expected to return to your own country, you may in some cases be sent back to another non-EU country which you passed through on your way to the EU.
If you have a right to stay in another EU country, you will have to go to that country. If you do not go immediately, or if you represent a threat to public policy or security, you will be asked to leave the entire territory of the EU.
I have been issued with a return decision. What happens next?
You will be asked to leave voluntarily, usually within one to four weeks, unless:
- You represent a risk to public order, public security or national security;
- Your application to stay in the country was based on false information;
- Your application to stay in the country was dismissed as being unfounded;
- There is a risk you will escape.
In such circumstances, you will have to leave immediately or to do so within less than 7 days.
If you do not voluntarily leave the country within the time period allowed under the return decision, or if you become a risk to public or national security, you will be forcibly returned to your own country or to another non-EU country.
Can I receive some assistance to prepare my journey back home?
In almost all EU countries you should be able to obtain financial or material support to prepare your journey to your country of origin. Authorities may pay you the flight ticket, provide you with some pocket money and, in certain cases, give you additional in-cash or in-kind support to restart your life in your country. In order to obtain this assistance, you would usually be asked to actively cooperate with authorities in organising your journey.
Could I be placed in detention while awaiting my forced return?
You may be held in detention while preparations are made for your return if, for example, there is a risk that you will flee, if you do not cooperate with the authorities and if you avoid or obstruct your return.
Where possible and effective, authorities must use means other than detention.
A person who has received a return decision can always ask to have this reviewed by a court.
What detention conditions could I expect?
- The conditions of detention must be in full respect of fundamental rights and meet national and international standards;
- You should be placed in a specialised detention centre. Where this is not possible, you might be in a prison but separated from ordinary prisoners;
- You should be able to contact your legal representatives, family members and consular authorities;
- Your detention should be regularly reviewed by the relevant national authorities. In cases of long periods of detention, any such review will be supervised by the courts.
For how long can I be detained?
The detention period will be as short as possible and is generally limited to a maximum period of six months. In exceptional cases, and notably if you do not cooperate on your return, detention will be allowed for a maximum period of 18 months.
The rights of migrants waiting to be sent back home
What kind of treatment am I entitled to while awaiting my departure?
You benefit from a number of legal guarantees during the period before your return. These can include the right to:
- Contest a return decision;
- Seek legal advice;
- Language assistance, such as interpretation or translation, where necessary;
- Have the unity of your family respected. Efforts will be made to house you together with your family members and to return you together;
- Emergency health care and essential treatment of illnesses;
- In the case of children, access to basic education depending on the duration of the stay.
In addition, the special needs of vulnerable people, such as unaccompanied minors, pregnant women or disabled people, should be taken into account.
In some cases, you may be able to get legal advice and/or representation free of charge.
Will I be able to come back to an EU country?
Yes but you will not be able to do so if your return decision was accompanied by an entry ban issued by national authorities or a court. An entry ban prevents you from entering and staying in an EU country for a certain period of time after your departure.
The duration of entry bans are decided on a case-by-case basis and cannot last longer than five years, unless you pose a threat to public order, public security or national security.
You will automatically receive an entry ban if you do not voluntarily return home within the period of departure granted to you, or if you were not given the option of returning voluntarily. EU countries can also decide to give you an entry ban in other situations.
I have been issued with an entry ban from one EU country. Can I legally go to another EU country?
At first, you must leave the EU as required by the return decision.
After that, if you apply for legal residence to another EU country and this country considers letting you enter while an entry ban is in force, it must consult with the EU country that issued the entry ban.
Your Home Country’s Obligations
In general, your own country must accept you back if you are returned from an EU country.
Some non-EU countries have signed readmission agreements with the EU, as well as with individual EU countries, to make the return of their citizens easier. In some cases, non-EU countries will also receive citizens from other non-EU countries who passed through on their way to an EU country.
The EU has concluded readmission agreements with:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- Cape Verde;
- Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia;
- Hong Kong;
- Sri Lanka;
- Turkey and