Europol has launched the new European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC). The goal of the Centre is to proactively support officials from EU Member States in dismantling criminal networks involved in organised migrant smuggling. The Centre will focus on geographical criminal ‘hotspots’, and also build a better capability across the European Union designed to fight people smuggling networks.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, said: “The fight against migrant smuggling is a key priority for the European Union in addressing the refugee crisis. In order to step up and co-ordinate efforts across Member States, the European Commission has announced the creation of a European Migrant Smuggling Centre with Europol in its European Agenda on Migration. The launch of this Centre will reinforce co-operation with Member States, international organisations, national stakeholders and European agencies with a responsibility to fight migrant smuggling.”
Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, added: “Europol’s research indicates that 90% of migrants arriving in Europe have their journey facilitated by a criminal organisation. Tackling this huge people smuggling trade has become an essential part of the EU’s response to the migrant crisis. The European Migrant Smuggling Centre will provide the necessary platform by which Member States can actively improve their exchange of information and operational co-ordination in the fight against organised migrant smuggling.”
The European Migrant Smuggling Centre will be led by Robert Crepinko, who explained: “The EMSC will play a decisive role in proactively supporting Member States to target and dismantle organised crime networks involved in migrant smuggling. Acting as an information hub, this Centre will proactively support the EU’s Regional Task Force and the work of other partner agencies.”
Exponential increase of migrant flows
The exponential increase of the migratory flow and the involvement of organised crime in this process on a large scale, together with the number of requests for operational support from EU Member States, called for an adequate and co-ordinated European response.
Therefore, Europol has launched the new-style European Migrant Smuggling Centre, which is modelled along the lines of similar initiatives such as the European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3) and the European Counter-Terrorism Centre (ECTC), both of which are hosted at Europol. The launch of the Centre reflects the top priority status that migrant smuggling has now attained.
Part of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre is the ‘hotspot’ model of the EU Regional Task Force recommended by the European Commission’s Agenda on Migration. The aim of the regional ‘hotspots’ is to assist national authorities in the fields of identification, asylum support, intelligence sharing, criminal investigations and the prosecution of criminal networks of people smugglers.
So far, two ‘hotspots’ exist. They’re to be found in Catania, Italy and Piraeus in Greece.
In March 2015, Europol launched the Joint Operational Team Mare (JOT MARE). JOT MARE, again hosted at Europol’s headquarters, is a specialised team of experts whose aim is to combat people smuggling via the Mediterranean and their subsequent secondary movements to destination countries.
The strengthening of JOT Mare, making it an essential element of the new EMSC, and the upgrading of all Europol’s activities in this field underpins the creation of the new European Migrant Smuggling Centre.
It also builds on Europol’s dedicated work across the last ten years or more in combating organised migrant smuggling in Europe, during which time almost 40,000 suspected smugglers have been identified. No less than 1,551 cross-border investigations were supported in 2015 alone.
The launch of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre follows on from a decision made by the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs ministers in November 2015. Europol was invited by those same ministers to accelerate the establishment of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre and strengthen its capacity to support Member States in better preventing and fighting migrant smuggling.
*The launch of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre took place during the 2nd Europol and Interpol Operational Forum on Countering Migrant Smuggling Networks