The Kurdish kaçakçı on the Iran-Turkey border: corruption and survival as EU sponsored counter-smuggling effects

Karolina Augustova*, David Suber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
31 Downloads (Pure)


This article examines people smuggling in the Kurdish borders between Turkey and Iran, and describes how members of local Kurdish border communities use their roles as kaçakçı (smuggler in Turkish) to navigate externalised EU border controls amid internal displacement and poverty. It draws upon ethnographic data collection between 2020 and 2022 in the Turkey-Iran border that has not been considered in studies on the EU-supported external counter-smuggling. This article specifically narrows down on corruption, an often mentioned yet understudied element of smuggling, and discusses the payment of bribes to border officials, and the creation of riskier routes to facilitate border crossing. We show how unequal access to corruption allow some people smuggling attempts to result in relatively uneventful passages while others are permeated by risks and death. While vilified by governments, corruption is also widely known and accepted as a social equalizer: as a safety valve that allows marginalized Kurds – both kaçakçı and border and security guards – to navigate precarity and survive borderland enforcement regimes. Our analysis from the perspectives of Kurds working as kaçakçı in the context of conflict and internal displacement seeks to move away from the dominant lens used in the analysis of people smuggling, which has almost solely examined it as a form of transnational organized crime and/or as an element of externalised border governance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-63
Number of pages16
JournalTrends in Organized Crime
Issue number1
Early online date15 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023

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