Migrant Smuggling a Growing Concern for European Union
On October 10, Erkki Koort, chair of an internal security group in the European Commission, spoke to members of European Parliament of the growing dangers of migrant smuggling. In his speech, Mr. Koort claims that the illicit smuggling of refugees is the largest problem facing the continent right now.
Involving more EU member states than the arms smuggling trade, drug smuggling trade and even the human trafficking trade, migrant smuggling is a booming black-market industry.
As of March 2017, Europol, the EU’s police agency, is actively investigating some 5,000 organized crime groups operating internationally. That report turned a lot of heads in Brussels, and emissaries like Erkki Koort want EU policy to reflect the growing danger.
A May 2017 meeting between European diplomats prioritized migrant smuggling as public enemy number one. The Europol report is credited with this change of policy.
The issue has plagued especially the Balkan nations, such as Romania. In 2014 some 430 people came to the country, followed by 68 in 2015 and although none arrived in 2016, the problem seems to be in resurgence.
Between August and September 2017 around 500 refugees, packed into five separate vessels, landed on the Black Sea coast of Romania.
In fact, the problem is so large in the Balkans that in March 2016, high-tech security fences were erected on the border between Turkey and Bulgaria, slashing the number of migrants crossing at this point.
In addition, naval security was increased by the EU in the Aegean Sea, further helping to combat the problem. At its worst, these routes accounted for some one million illicit border crossings into the EU.
The sheer number of migrants moving into the area has overwhelmed authorities, such as in Romania. Conditions for the numerous asylum-seekers there are less than ideal, and just getting to the country is no guarantee of safety.
Dormitories for the migrants awaiting asylum (or deportation) are crowded, with many holding ten people in one single room. With 900 people currently in Romania seeking refuge, and more coming, these conditions may become even worse.
European authorities are also focusing on breaking up the criminal rings responsible for bringing migrant into the continent. Italy, for example, arrested seven people in connection to migrant smuggling on October 19.
This ring got their start smuggling cigarettes, but switch to smuggling migrants due to the profitability. With the next EU policy cycle beginning in 2018 many, like Erkki Koort, wish for further increases to security to aid not only EU member nations, but also the refugees themselves.