(SCMP.com) Europe at war with 30,000 migrant smugglers who prey on desperate refugees

From: Biniam Tekle <biniamt_at_dehai.org_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sun, 6 Sep 2015 17:44:37 -0400


Europe at war with 30,000 migrant smugglers who prey on desperate refugees

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 September, 2015, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 September, 2015, 6:04pm

Agence France-Presse in Brussels

With the world still reeling from images of a drowned Syrian boy,
European authorities say it is their top priority to fight an army of
an estimated 30,000 people-smuggling suspects blamed for such

Officials say the deadly business that may be worth billions of
dollars is preying on the sheer desperation of growing numbers of
people fleeing war and poverty in places like Syria, Afghanistan,
Eritrea and Somalia.

Smugglers belonging to loose networks are increasingly using social
media, well-organised routes and ruthless tactics to bring waves of
refugees and migrants to Europe.

A Syrian refugee counts money that will be given to human smugglers
before he and his friends attempt to reach Greece. Photo: TNS

But there is new urgency in the wake of cases such as the death of
three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi - found lifeless on a Turkish beach
after the smuggling boat carrying his family to Greece sank in the
Aegean Sea - and the deaths of 71 people in an airless van on an
Austrian highway.

“It is the top priority for sure, not only for Europol but for all
member states,” Robert Crepinko, head of the organised crime network
at the European Union’s police agency Europol, said.

“If you talk about the whole range of illegal migration across Europe,
not only focusing on the Mediterranean, the number is 30,000

Syrian migrants wait in Mythimna on Lesbos island, Greece. Photo: AFP

The EU launched a new naval mission against people smugglers in the
Mediterranean in July, starting with an intelligence-gathering phase,
before readying to take military action against trafficker’ boats,
mainly off the Libyan coast.

The naval mission and Europol say they are cooperating through an
office in Sicily to identify and dismantle networks of smugglers
bringing migrants across the Mediterranean.

Crepinko added Europol will shortly open a cell in Piraeus, Greece, to
tackle smuggling from Turkey.

But as only 3,000, or one-tenth, of the 30,000 suspects in Europe are
specifically involved in moving people across the Mediterranean,
Europol’s remit also covers other routes including the increasingly
popular western Balkans into Hungary.

Migrant smuggling - combined with human trafficking for sexual and
labour exploitation - now earns organised criminal gangs more than
weapons and the drugs trade, according to the EU border control agency

“It’s probably the most profitable business there is,” Frontex
spokeswoman Izabella Cooper said.

Smugglers are increasingly resorting to Facebook and other social
media to advertise their services, negotiate prices, and arrange
travel venues and times for migrants, the officials said.

Investigations are complex, with Europol’s Crepinko saying smugglers
of different nationalities and religions operate in “fluid” groups who
come together when there is business.

He cited the example of an alleged 16-member ring that was broken up
in Greece recently with the arrests of two Romanians, two Egyptians,
two Pakistanis, seven Syrians, one Indian, one Filipino and one Iraqi.

The gang allegedly smuggled mainly Syrians from Turkey to Greece via
sea, air and land to Europe, providing the migrants with falsified
documents, and making an estimated 7.5 million euros (about $8.4
million) during the few moths it was operating.

Separately, Turkish authorities have reportedly arrested four
suspected traffickers, all Syrian nationals, over the deaths of 12
Syrian migrants including three-year-old Aylan.

The task of European authorities is further complicated by the network
of routes that desperate refugees and migrants take.

Frontex has discovered a network run by Eritreans leading from Eritrea
to Libya through Sudan then onto Europe, while one of many others goes
through Ghana, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Once in Libya, Cooper said, there are networks that specialise in
sending migrants across the Mediterranean in overcrowded fishing boats
or dinghies, which Frontex suspects “might be imported from China”.

She said Frontex has heard that smugglers have put migrants on the
vessels at gunpoint when the latter realise how unseaworthy they are
and refuse to board.

European Union officials say they hope to reach an agreement with
African leaders on tackling smuggling networks during a crucial
EU-Africa summit in November in Malta.

“We need to strengthen cooperation with some key countries which are
springboards for this,” an EU diplomat said.
Received on Sun Sep 06 2015 - 17:45:16 EDT

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