Funding Success: £100k secured from the Leverhulme Trust (UK) to understand people smuggling and organ trafficking along the Central Mediterranean Route

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Increasingly organ sale is being presented as a gateway to asylum, which has resulted in a need for further examination, and explanation, of global responses to crime and immigration.

Dr Seán Columb, Senior Lecturer at the Liverpool Law School, has been awarded £100k from Leverhulme Trust (UK) as part of the Phillip Leverhulme Prizes for his project entitled ‘Gatekeeping Asylum: The Convergence of People Smuggling and the Illicit Organ Removal along the Central Mediterranean Route’.

Providing a conceptual reflection on how law generates violence, this research is set to provide much needed further insight into how crime and immigration controls shape the illicit trade developed around migrant populations.

Drawing on the experiences of African migrants in Egypt, Sudan, Italy, and the United Kingdom, Seán will explore how migrant detainability and deportability have stimulated criminal synergies and produced new ways to commodify migrant bodies, including for the purposes of organ removal. The project will run January 2024 – December 2025.

Previous research findings – as detailed in Seán’s book ‘Trading Life: Organ Trafficking, Illicit Networks, and Exploitation’ – involving interviews with African migrants in Cairo, Egypt (2014-2018), suggested that the militarisation of borders along the Central Mediterranean route has stimulated criminal synergies between smuggling networks and organ brokers.

Thanks to the Leverhulme Trust (UK) funding award, Seán is able to conduct further research in this area, in a bid to understand the nature, and extent, of organ trafficking within Europe. These findings will inform assessments of the impact caused by legislative measures developed in response to the organ trade and human trafficking in the UK.

Speaking of the funding award, Dr Seán Columb, said:
“I am delighted to have this opportunity to significantly develop the scope of my research, taking into account the global connections and extra-legal partnerships that intersect and overlap with the organ trade, people smuggling, and human trafficking. In sharing the narratives and experiences of people whose lives have been impacted by these issues, I hope to inform and improve policy in this area to ensure the necessary actions are taken.”

Professor Helen Stalford, Head of the Liverpool Law School, shared:
“The structure of Dr Columb’s research is well placed to inform the development of more effective responses from policymakers in this area, acknowledging the structural inequalities and existing policy decisions that render people vulnerable to exploitation in illicit markets. Congratulations Seán on this funding achievement!”

Since its foundation in 1925, the Leverhulme Trust has provided grants and scholarships for research and education, funding research projects, fellowships, studentships, bursaries and prizes; it operates across all the academic disciplines, the intention being to support talented individuals as they realise their personal vision in research and professional training. Today, it is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing approximately £100 million a year.

For more information about the Trust, please visit and follow the Trust on Twitter @LeverhulmeTrust.