1st Dec 2023


Revealed: EU plan to make 1,400 people-smuggling arrests in 2022

  • An operation named Reflect 2022 and headed by Frontex aims to make 1,000 apprehensions and or arrests (Photo: European Union, 2019)
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A leaked internal document has revealed the detail of dozens of operational plans to crack down on migrant smugglers next year, including a target to make over 1,400 arrests - mostly under the aegis of the EU's border agency Frontex.

The 59-page internal EU document, dated 13 November, offers a snapshot of 30 different plans set to be launched.

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Some are led by individual member states, others by EU agencies like Frontex and police agency Europol.

The plans come at a time when humanitarian volunteers face increasing risk of possible prison sentences and fines for helping migrants. It also comes amid revelations of Greek intelligence services monitoring a journalist reporting on refugees.

Some of the plans come with so-called key annual performance indicators, including things like number of arrests, seized fraudulent documents, intelligence gathering reports, and launched investigations.

It feeds into a wider push to prevent people seeking protection from entering the EU, as member states remain deadlocked in their efforts to overhaul the EU's internal asylum rules and comes under a security driven initiative by EU member states known as Empact.

Its primary strategic goal is to create a "criminal intelligence picture", followed by everything from money-laundering to assistance to victims.

The intelligence picture spans criminal networks but also vaguely termed phrases like "key parallel facilitators."

It includes yet-to-be-adopted rules enabling Frontex "to support operational activities by means of identifying suspects in cross-border crime, namely migrant smuggling (and others)."

It also involves Europol working with countries where it has operational and strategic agreements, including the Balkans but also China, Russia, and Turkey.

Austria, France, Greece, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and non-EU state UK are also all spearheading individual operations, along with support from other countries.

Austria is tasked to arrest 200 "smuggler-facilitators" in its Western Balkan operation.

Greece wants to establish whether criminal acts "may be committed in the future", and will narrow in on migration logistical hubs such as transportation and accommodation.

It plans to make at least five arrests next year.

Germany is leading three operations spanning the Western Balkans, document forgery detection, and intelligence gathering on visa fraud.

It wants to make at least 200 arrests.

Italy wants to break apart organised crime groups along the 'Central Mediterranean Route' by improving "real-time information exchange" and by increasing collaboration with Libya and Tunisia. Number of arrests: six.

France is leading four operations involving the 'dark web', document fraud, onward internal movements by migrants, and inflatable boats crossing the English Channel.

Spain has two operations to stem migratory pressure on the Western Mediterranean route and cut smuggling air routes from Africa, Asia, and South America. Number of arrests: 30.

Europol has three operations dealing with enhancing the intelligence picture of migratory smuggling routes, leading to some 100 "intelligence products".

Poland will work on disrupting smuggling from Belarus, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine.

Portugal will crack down on bogus marriages in a so-called 'Operation Bride' and hopes to identify or disrupt at least five organised crime groups.

Frontex has the lead on eight operations, dealing with illegal border crossings, surveillance in the Balkans, border checks, document fraud, training, intelligence collection at external borders, and awareness raising.

The operations include apprehending at least 50 "suspected facilitators" and making some 1,000 arrests.

Meanwhile, the UK along with Germany will be working on disrupting supply chains for small boats and engines used by migrants to cross the English Channel.

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