EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE
HIGH COMMISSIONER’S PROGRAMME
9 June 2000
INTERCEPTION OF ASYLUM-SEEKERS AND REFUGEES:
THE INTERNATIONAL FRAMEWORK AND RECOMMENDATIONS
FOR A COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH
Irregular migration has become a major challenge for many States in different parts of the world.
The increase in the number of arrivals without the required documentation has raised concerns about the
ability of States to control borders and access to their territory. In recent years, Governments have
renewed efforts to prevent irregular migration and to combat the smuggling and trafficking of persons, in
particular when undertaken by organized criminal groups.
Many of those who are being smuggled or trafficked are migrants in search of a better life, hoping
to find employment opportunities and economic prosperity abroad. Others are asylum-seekers and
refugees who flee from persecution, armed conflict, and other threats to their life and freedom. Both
groups are exploited by criminal traffickers or smugglers who seek to make illicit profit from offering their
services to the vulnerable and the disadvantaged.
In order to combat human smuggling and trafficking, States have adopted, inter alia, the practice
of “intercepting” persons travelling without the required documentation - whether in the country of
departure, in the transit country, within territorial waters or on the high seas, or just prior to the arrival in
the country of destination. In some instances, interception has affected the ability of asylum-seekers and
refugees to benefit from international protection.
Based on a working definition outlined below, this paper describes the current State practice on
interception. It sets out the international legal and policy framework in which interception takes places,
including its impact on asylum-seekers and refugees, and puts forward a number of recommendations for
a comprehensive, protection-oriented approach.
II. INTERCEPTION AND OTHER MEASURES AGAINST
The paragraphs that follow describe various types of interception as practised by States, the
reasons for these measures and their impact on asylum-seekers and refugees. They are introduced by a
brief summary of current discussions at international level that relate to irregular migration.
A. International Cooperation against smuggling and trafficking of persons
UNHCR supports the distinction made by the Vienna Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of a Convention against
Transnational Organized Crime (created by the General Assembly in its resolution 53/111 of 9 December 1998)
between smuggled migrants and trafficked persons. As currently defined in the two draft Protocols supplementing
the main Draft Convention, trafficking concerns the recruitment and transportation of persons for a criminal purpose,
such as prostitution or forced labour, and usually involves some level of coercion or deception. Smuggling, on the
other hand, involves bringing a migrant illegally into another country, but normally without continued exploitation of
the smuggled person after arrival.