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21st Apr 2019

EU police agency steps up crackdown on migrant smuggling

  • Over 3,000 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean last year into Europe (Photo: mediterranean)

The EU’s police agency Europol on Tuesday (17 March) launched a new intelligence-gathering team to crack down on gangs who smuggle thousands of migrants across the Mediterranean and into Europe.

The “JOT (Joint Operational Team) Mare" unit aims to help police dismantle the smuggling cartels and will be hosted at the EU agency in The Hague.

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The unit will be working closely with the EU’s border surveillance agency, Frontex, and with Interpol, the international police agency based in Lyon, France, along with the following 13 member states: Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Europol’s deputy director Wil van Gemert told this website it will be active for at least a year before undergoing an evaluation.

“We promised to see and get back to the member states if this working in the way we are expecting it to work,” he said.

He also said he is confident police in the member states will act on the new intelligence disseminated by the unit.

“I’m confident with the commitment we got from the countries here today and all the countries represented at a high level that there is not only the political will to do something about this but also from the law enforcement perspective,” he noted.

Last week, the EU agency along with police in Greece dismantled a people-smuggling gang suspected of helping mainly Syrian nationals into Greece from Turkey via maritime routes.

Europol says the gang was charging up to €9,000 per person and may have earned up to € 7.5 million.

Two Romanian nationals were among the 16 suspects arrested. Others came from Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, India, the Philippines, and Iraq.

Police seized 280 passports and identity cards, 82 mobile phones, 25 computers and tablets, six printers, cars and motorcycles, €64,000 in cash, and €154,714 in bank cheques and bank deposits.

The European Commission, for its part, has backed the new intelligence unit.

“It will reinforce our actions against smugglers; against the ruthless criminals who facilitate irregular migration to Europe through the Mediterranean sea,” said EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos in a statement.

He noted Frontex is currently monitoring a number of ports outside the EU and about a dozen large vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, which might be used for smuggling migrants.

Over 220,000 migrants entered Europe in 2014 compared to 60,000 in 2013.

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