University of Sussex
83454.pdf (706.59 kB)

Social embeddedness of human smuggling in East Africa: brokering Ethiopian migration to the Sudan

Download (706.59 kB)
journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 08:22 authored by Tekalign Ayalew, Fekadu Adugna, Priya DeshingkarPriya Deshingkar
This article discusses the migration processes and brokering practices that link Ethiopia and Sudan by taking into account the social, economic, political and cultural underpinnings of human smuggling in the region. The analysis is based on three months of fieldwork using a conventional qualitative research methodology. Respondents were selected from actors such as smugglers, migrants and government personnel involved in the migration process, facilitation and control activities. Since the 1990s, significant irregular overland labour migration has emerged from Ethiopian towns and villages to Khartoum, Sudan via the border towns of Metema on the Ethiopian side and Galabat on the Sudanese side. However, how various actors engage in shaping this migration process and how human smuggling sustains despite increasing control efforts by the state is less understood. This paper demonstrates that this mobility is facilitated mainly by smugglers who are involved in transnational social relations, material practice and migration knowledge production, including informal money transfer practices, transport and communication infrastructures. This challenges the view reflected in popular discourses that such smuggling is organised by independent criminal organisations. Smugglers and their connectors in Metema facilitate Ethiopian migrants’ clandestine border crossings via the town of Metema by mobilising support and resources from local communities along the border, bribing border guards and capitalising on their ethnic, religious and economic connections along Ethiopian-Sudanese borderlands. The study concludes that human smuggling and brokering migration partly thrives in the border areas since the actors extend benefits of smuggling to the economically disadvantaged local community and in return generate social and community support for smuggling activities.


Publication status

  • Published

File Version

  • Published version


African Human Mobility Review




Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa





Page range


Department affiliated with

  • Geography Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


First Open Access (FOA) Date


First Compliant Deposit (FCD) Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Publications)


    No categories selected