15th Aug 2018

People smugglers impervious to EU clampdown threat

  • Mersin in Turkey: Syrian refugee Moutassem Yazbek was smuggled from there to Italy. (Photo: tayfun)

The Luxembourg EU presidency has drafted a summary paper on migration in the lead-up to a meeting of interior and justice ministers on Monday (14 September).

The internal presidency paper, seen by this website on Friday (11 September), says operations are underway to clamp down on criminal groups that smuggle in people from outside Europe.

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It mentions "Hunting Ground", a surveillance operation in the Western Balkans tasked to track organised criminal groups, their structures, and routes.

"Hunting Ground" was launched this year along with "Blue Amber", a field operation that has so far led to the arrest of more than 100 smugglers and traffickers.

The paper notes that the fight against traffickers and smugglers needs to be intensified at national and international level. This includes greater international police and intelligence cooperation.

Smugglers on Facebook

But around half a dozen online smuggler Facebook pages seen by this website on Friday appear impervious to EU-level moves against their "business model".

Smugglers are posting their telephone numbers and advertise services including air, sea and land transport, housing, insurance, and documents such as passports. One smuggler said he could take people on a five-room 22-metre yacht.

Another says he can offer translation services. Others are posting links to German-language apps while some of the comments are pleading for help to leave Serbia.

Moutassem Yazbek, a Syrian who was smuggled out of Mersin, a port city in Turkey, to Italy in December 2014, told EUobserver the business is a large hierarchy led by just two or three "well-connected" people.

Yazbek paid $6,500 (€5,762) and now lives in Germany. He described the smuggler business as a pyramid model.

"It's a huge connection but the smallest people in this 'profession', these people create Facebook pages", he said.

He said Syrians have set up 'insurance companies' in Turkey, which act as middlemen between smugglers and their clients.

"They will not give the smuggler money until you reach, for example, Italy", he said.

The 'client' calls the insurance company with a security code upon arrival at which point the money is then released to the smuggler.

The insurance also covers services if things go wrong. He said the engine on the boat he was on failed. They drifted to Cyprus and were rescued by the Cypriot coastguard.

"We went back to Turkey and they gave me the money back. He even gave me a discount and because I didn't have any money, he gave me $100 so I could survive for a few days", he said.

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