The Risks of Irregular Migration

People migrating irregularly can face a variety of risks on their journey. Whether it’s the risk of detention, the risk of financial loss, or physical risks such as assault, many migrants underestimate the possibilities that they may face on an irregular journey. 


Prior to and during an irregular journey, smugglers give migrants false information and lie about the journey. They convince migrants that dangerous irregular journeys are easier and safer than they actually are, so they can charge them high amounts of money for their services. 

Migrants may think they are getting a good deal from a smuggler who offers a cheap price for the journey. However, smugglers will continue to demand money along the journey, and migrants will also need money to pay for food and accommodation along the way. This leads to migrants becoming indebted to smugglers, and thus at risk of exploitation and even trafficking or prostitution in order to pay back the smugglers. 

Migrants may also be at risk of being held hostage as smugglers demand a ransom from their families. 

Traveling by boat

For migrants attempting to migrate irregularly over the sea, the journey constitutes a very real physical danger as people smugglers will often use the cheapest boats they can locate. These are boats that are not suitable for crossing large bodies of water. 

The English Channel, between the UK and France, is one of the busiest waterways in the world.Smugglers usually plan to cross at night or early in the morning, when conditions are particularly tough. Some migrants have also tried to swim out to ferries, but this is very dangerous as the water is very cold and the currents are strong.

Travelling via the Eurotunnel between France and the UK

Some migrants may attempt to reach the UK through the Eurotunnel, an underwater tunnel under the English Channel. This journey is dangerous, and there have been cases of migrants being electrocuted, hit by a train, or caught and arrested. 

Migrants most often have to cross difficult terrain on foot, including forests and rivers, for many days with no shelter and with limited supplies.

Smugglers may try to convince you to pay for their help to reach certain countries by boat, train, car or lorry. Smugglers also hide migrants in severely overcrowded trucks and in the boots of vehicles. Badly ventilated and lacking safety measures, these spaces are not designed for people. There are frequent reports of migrants dying during these overland journeys. It has also occurred that smugglers have drugged people in the back of lorries or cars to keep them quiet, posing more physical risks to the migrants.

Additionally, many migrants are caught by border patrol or police each year as they attempt to cross the border by hiding in lorries or cars.

Each country has their own border protection officers and policies, and irregular migrants are at risk of capture, detention and deportation throughout their journey.

Irregular migrants can be detained for up to 18 months before being deported, according to the laws of the European Union (EU). Migrant detention facilities in France are often cramped and have prison-like security measures in place. Access to outdoor spaces may be limited, and there is little opportunity for recreational activities. There have been several complaints about conditions at short-term holding facilities, including poor lighting and ventilation, and inadequate sleeping or washing facilities.

Many of these migrants will be returned to their home countries or the first EU country they were documented in.

At any point during an irregular migration journey, migrants may be stopped by police or border guards and held in detention. This may lead to them being forcibly returned to a different country or the country where they are from. 

An EU law called the Dublin Regulation says that migrants must apply for asylum in the first European Union member state you passed through. Migrants who seek asylum in a country other than the one they first entered may be returned to the first country.   Learn more about the Dublin Regulation below. 

If you are not eligible to make an asylum claim, many countries, including the UK, will require you to return to your home country. 

Those whose asylum applications have been rejected, and who do not return voluntarily or by forced return to their home countries, face continued difficulties and risks living undocumented in their destination country. Many undocumented migrants are not eligible for support, including health care or other benefits. Finding income is also difficult. This makes undocumented people vulnerable to exploitation and adds to the risks that migrants face in general.

As a woman migrant, you are at higher risk of being abused and exploited. 

Women are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and there are documented instances of them being forced into prostitution. Along an irregular migration journey, the risk of gender-based violence is also high. As irregular migrants, you may not know your rights and generally try to avoid police. Even if you manage to get to the UK, you may face the same problem as many women who have ended up in debt to smuggler networks and continue to be exploited.

Many women attempt to protect themselves from these dangers by isolating themselves, but this would make you less likely to receive important information about safer, legal alternatives to irregular migration.

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