Violeta Moreno-Lax

Professor Violeta Moreno-Lax is Full Professor of Law (on special leave) at Queen Mary University of London, specialising in international and EU law at the intersection with migration, border violence, and security studies. She is the founder of Queen Mary’s Immigration Law programme and the inaugural director of its (B)OrderS: Centre for the Legal Study of Borders, Migration and Displacement. At Queen Mary, she has also co-founded and served as inaugural co-director of the Centre for European and International Legal Affairs (CEILA) (2014-18) and as PI of SAROBMED: The Search and Rescue Observatory for the Mediterranean, a multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder, award-winning consortium documenting and analysing human rights violations at sea occurring during interdiction/rescue operations. She also serves as Co-Chair of The European Law Observatory; as a member of the Advisory Board of Equal Rights Beyond Borders; as a member of the Steering Committee of the Migration and Law Network; and has been Senior Research Associate of the Refugee Law Initiative of the University of London since 2018. She regularly advices the EU institutions and other organisations in her areas of expertise. Her latest studies for the European Parliament concern The EU Approach to Migration in the Mediterranean (2021) and EU External Migration Policy and the Protection of Human Rights (2020).


Professor Moreno-Lax currently holds a prestigious Ramón y Cajal grant (2022-27), awarded by the Spanish government to top scientists, that she is implementing at the University of Barcelona. Previously, she has held academic appointments at the Universities of Oxford, Liverpool, and Louvain-la-Neuve, and research fellowships at the European University Institute (Fernand Braudel Senior Research Fellowship, 2021), the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (Directors’ Grant, 2018), and The Hague Academy of International Law (Centre for Studies and Research, 2010). She has held visiting positions at the Universities of Ghent: European Law Institute (2019), Macquarie Law School (2017), New South Wales: Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law (2017), Oxford: Refugee Studies Centre (2010-12), and Nijmegen: Centre for Migration Law (2009-10).

For details on her publications, please, consult her Academia page.


Research Project

Humanitarian Smuggling? A Legitimacy Appraisal of Migration Solidarity Crimes under EU Law.

Professor Moreno-Lax’ research takes issue with the phenomenon of ‘humanitarian smuggling’ and the legitimacy of its criminalisation. The project starts from the increasing penalisation of individuals aiding migrants with a humanitarian purpose and the extensive resort to smuggling offences observed in the EU, which seems to clash with basic ethical assumptions (saving lives and helping persons in need are praiseworthy actions) and with established general principles of criminal law (the legality and proportionality of offences, the principle of guilt, and the harm principle).


Against this background, the project aims to determine the legal and normative limits to the criminalisation of ‘humanitarian smuggling’ in light of EU constitutional law and its interplay with international norms (including the duty to rescue and render assistance to persons in danger of being lost at sea, human rights, and the principles of solidarity and humanitarianism). The research will examine the compatibility of the current (EU) legal framework and its implementation in select Member States with the general principles of criminal law and EU constitutional principles (as inspired by international law and common constitutional traditions).


The research will draw on intellectual resources across disciplinary fields in EU and international law, legal philosophy, theory of criminal law as well as criminology, international political sociology, and critical migration studies. The expected result is for the project to fill an important gap in the literature by offering a comprehensive understanding of the normative limits to the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance in light of EU constitutional norms and the general principles and values of criminal law. More broadly, the study will inform the wider discussion on symbolic uses and the overreach of criminal law, as well as the legal and policy-related shortcomings of prevailing regulatory approaches to irregular migration in the EU and beyond.