Saturday

29th Apr 2017

Migrant smugglers mostly Turks, says Europol

  • People continue to use smugglers to help them get into the EU (Photo: Josh Zakary)

Member states are reporting more and more migrant smuggling suspects to the EU police agency Europol.

The spike in reporting, when compared to last year, suggests Turkish nationals ply the migrant smuggling trade more than anyone else.

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"What we see is that Turkish suspects smuggle migrants both into the EU and within the EU," an Europol spokesperson told EUobserver earlier this week.

Figures released earlier this month suggest Turks outrank other nationalities as migrant smuggling suspects.

But out of a total 12,000 new suspects reported this year, Europol was able to confirm the nationality of only 3,992.

Of those, it found Turks ranked highest with 423 nationalities, followed by Syrians at 364 and Romanians at 216.

Europol cautioned against drawing any conclusion that would appear to suggest migrant smuggling from Turkey is one the rise.

"The only thing you can assume for certain is that more suspects were reported to Europol by the EU member states," noted the spokesperson.

Asked to respond, the EU commission says the figures refer to people apprehended within EU states and "not suspects involved in migrant smuggling to the EU from third countries".

The EU deal signed with Turkey earlier this year was meant to tackle the smuggling routes into Europe. The commission is set to publish its own assessment of the deal this month.

But Europol also says the nationalities reflect the evolution of migratory routes, as smuggling networks tend to use "local nationals" to facilitate the transport and accommodation of irregular migrants.

Things are only likely to get worse, notes the agency.

It says migratory pressures from Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria into the EU will increase.

More bottlenecks and informal camps in EU states are also likely to emerge.

It says labour exploitation of migrants will increase in both transit and destination countries and smugglers will increasingly use "vessels in poor conditions" that are only able to float for a few hours.

Europol also found that smugglers were adapting to stricter border controls and are now using new routes and methods to evade police and border guards.

"New alternative routes via air, sea and land are increasingly used," it said.

Similar findings were also reported last week by the UK-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.

It said migrants were increasingly using illicit routes into the EU because of tougher border measures and deals with countries like Turkey.

"In 2015, only 35 percent of new asylum applications were from people arriving in Europe by covert means. In 2016, that proportion is projected to increase to approximately 60 percent," said ODI.

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Europol says the figure is more a reflection of an improved intelligence picture rather than an absolute increase in the number of gangs.

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An initial plan to relocate 160,000, which was later amended to 98,000, now appears to drop even further after the European Commission said the new objective was to dispatch only eligible asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.

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Commission is withholding action on Hungary's detention of asylum seekers, even as the Hungarian government tries to "stop Brussels" on immigration policy.

Austria wants out of EU migrant relocations

Austria is required to start relocating asylum seekers from Italy and Greece after an exemption to the scheme ended on 11 March. But Austria's chancellor has other ideas and wants the exemption prolonged.

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