This paper examines human smuggling to the European Union in the 1990s. It argues that the increase in human smuggling and the development of restrictive access policies to EU states are interlinked and reinforce each other. Human smuggling, one very important aspect of irregular migration, is widely described as a threat to the security of a receiving country. This paper makes a theory‐based argument for approaching irregular migration in a radically different way by taking it off the national security agenda. This would allow for a more long‐term and Europe‐wide approach toward irregular migration, while refugees' rights of access to protection would be respected and receiving societies would experience foreigners as less stressful than they do now. Human smuggling is examined through the lens of three International Relations theories: realism, critical security studies, and pluralism. Realism best reflects today's perception of human smuggling as a threat to a state, and that state's self‐interest to protect itself; ‘state’ and ‘self‐interest’ are its central concepts. Critical security studies recognize that ‘danger’ and ‘threat’ are constructs of each society, reflected in government policies. The theory thus includes societal factors in its analysis, while accepting a nation's interest in protecting itself from perceived threats. Pluralism, finally, identifies the state as pluralist and integrative of sub‐ and supranational forces, best capable to respond to a complex and multi‐layered problem such as human smuggling.

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