Director of EUROPOL
“Preventing and curbing illegal immigration and trafficking
in human beings in the European Union”
Ü Eurasylum: As the European Union law enforcement organisation handling criminal intelligence, Europol offers assistance to law enforcement activities in the EU Member States on an operational level and by producing assessments of the threat from organised illegal immigration on a strategic, pan-European Union level. In addition, the agency initiates and/or supports cross-border investigations with analytical and operational expertise. Can you describe some of the current features and trends of illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings in the European Union, and Europol’s key operational responses to such phenomena?
Ü Rob Wainwright: Trafficking in human beings is a priority crime area for Europol and we have seen a large increase in cases referred to us this year.
Trafficking in human beings (THB) for sexual and labour exploitation is a crime affecting all EU countries with men, women and children being exploited by both individual criminals and organised crime gangs on a daily basis throughout the EU. Globally, it is estimated that trafficking generates criminal profits in excess of US $31 billion every year (Forced labour and human trafficking: Estimating the profits, International Labour Organization). Trafficking for sexual exploitation (forced prostitution) is the most common form of human trafficking. The reported cases of labour exploitation (which also includes being forced into committing crime) are increasing and this is probably due to a combination of raised awareness leading to more investigations, as well as an actual increase in this form of exploitation most commonly ‘seen’ in the industries of construction, Horeca (hotels, restaurants, cafés), agriculture and domestic servitude.
A significant trend is the increase in trafficked children in the EU. We believe this is a deliberate tactic by traffickers who are using children more and more to disrupt the investigation process. The identification of a child victim, witness or suspect requires the implementation of special procedures within all law enforcement environments, especially the amount of time a child can be detained and the circumstances in which the child can be questioned. This emerging trend is one that Europol has seen evidence of in several investigations.
One recent example was Operation Golf – a UK Metropolitan Police investigation into Romanian organised Roma crime networks which targeted one of the largest human trafficking rings in Europe. The gangs specifically exploit children who are forced to routinely beg and steal across the UK and Europe.
With Europol’s support, a Joint Investigation Team was established between Romanian and UK law enforcement authorities, with Romanian investigators seconded to the UK to take advantage of their expertise which extended to language, intelligence, local knowledge, information and contacts back in Bucharest. The support that Europol gave to the analytical work done on Operation Golf and operationally through their liaison bureaux, ensured that the full range of tools available at EU level were utilised.
Operation Golf achieved the first conviction in the UK for both the trafficking of a child for criminal exploitation and ‘internal’ trafficking within the UK. Four members of the organised crime network were sentenced to a total of 24 years in prison and 168 trafficked children were identified by this operation.
Europol is currently supporting EU investigations into the most commonly reported people trafficking networks. Operational support for these investigations is provided by a dedicated project team who work closely with EU law enforcement authorities.
Law enforcement’s response to people trafficking across the EU is becoming more effective and is apparent in the increased number of cases being identified and referred to Europol for support and assistance. Our secure information exchange capabilities and sophisticated analytical support are key in identifying and disrupting these large criminal networks. Europol also supports many external partners with training and awareness raising for law enforcement officers and the judiciary.
In general, organised crime groups involved in the facilitation of illegal immigrants tend to be structured in loose networks of smaller groups, and most of them have ethnic or other cultural connections to the illegal immigrants they are facilitating. The facilitators are quick to detect and make use of various changes in society, such as law enforcement responses and changes in legislation or regulations, as well as the opening of new or cheaper transport routes or new border crossing points.
The involvement of legitimate business structures in relation to facilitated illegal immigration has grown in significance. For example, organised crime groups use travel agencies to arrange travel packages including the procurement of visas. Employment agencies, shipping agencies and marriages of convenience are other frequently abused routes.
Increasing enforcement of control and surveillance in the western and central Mediterranean, and closer cooperation with north African countries, has led to a displacement of facilitated illegal migration towards the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey is one of the major nexus points in the northern hemisphere for facilitators of illegal immigration. Greece is a destination for illegal immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia but also for Albanians. The Western Balkans is still a region of origin for many illegal immigrants into the EU, but it is also a transit region for those from other parts of the world and smugglers are well-established here. Moscow and Kiev are very important hubs for facilitated illegal migration in the Eastern European region.
Europol is regularly involved in the dismantling of organised crime groups that are facilitating large numbers of illegal immigrants into the EU and, as such, we have supported several investigations so far this year through the deployment of Europol experts, analysts and the Europol ‘mobile office’, which is used to coordinate the operations and provide a live link to criminal intelligence databases.
For example, in one lengthy pan–European investigation spanning 14 months, Europol worked with police officers from France, Germany, Hungary and the UK to stop an organised crime group suspected of facilitating illegal immigration. On a day of action in June this year, 42 premises were searched in the countries mentioned, resulting in the arrest of 31 suspects. In total 66 immigrants from Vietnam were found during the house searches. The majority of those arrested were also of Vietnamese origin, but there were several EU nationals taken into custody too.
The price the smugglers charged for the entire journey was up to €40,000 per person and it would take anything from a few days up to many weeks. The families of the illegal immigrants had often sold their houses and property to fund the journey. Having done so, they received a full ‘guarantee’ from the facilitators that they would arrive at their destination.
One of the modus operandi used by this network was to provide the immigrants with travel documents and valid visas that were issued on false grounds, with the help of involved consular officials. Once the immigrant arrived in Europe, the travel documents were returned to the criminal network to be re-used.
Various routes were used by these immigrants, such as flights from Vietnam to airports in Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. The immigrants were then transported onwards over land, hidden in trucks, to France and Germany. According to reports from some of the smuggled immigrants, the UK in particular is considered a ‘dream destination’ by the Vietnamese.
Ü Eurasylum: According to a Europol report, the facilitation of illegal immigration has increased throughout the world. The problem has been exacerbated in size and seriousness by the growing involvement of organised crime groups and the emerging trend of ‘combining’ several traditional crime areas (the so-called ‘cross commodity smuggling’). One example of how organised crime groups have adapted to changes in control procedures is by the increased misuse of legal migration systems, i.e. through student, business and tourist visas, or through marriages of convenience. As has been recently evidenced in the United Kingdom, some facilitators of illegal immigration have also set up bogus schools in order to obtain and abuse student visas. Can you highlight some of Europol’s key activities aimed at identifying evolving methods and channels used by organised crime groups, and at assisting law enforcement agencies in the Member States to fight international organised crime effectively?
Ü Rob Wainwright: Europol is actively engaging with two EU Member States in the course of a Joint Investigation Team that is targeting an organised crime group from outside the EU which organises the marriages of non-EU nationals to EU nationals in other EU Member States. This operation is already achieving significant results.
Increasing control of external borders, the introduction of higher quality travel documents and other measures intended to make clandestine entry into the EU more difficult has resulted in a shift in modi operandi used by the organised crime groups involved in the facilitation of illegal immigration. They are increasingly turning to more ingenious ways of abusing legal migration systems, such as adoption, marriage or, as you have mentioned, student and other types of visas. Abusing the legal migration systems requires greater experience from the facilitators and there has therefore been an increase in specialisation. The Schengen area and the free travel within have further fuelled this misuse.
Travel agencies can also provide a crucial service to organised crime groups that offer the ‘service’ of illegal immigration. This can come in two forms: the travel agency can be wholly criminal and is set up specifically for the purpose of facilitating illegal immigration but also conducts lawful business to camouflage the criminal activities; or the travel agency may be in the main a lawful enterprise but have one or more employees that are corrupt.
The level of collaboration between owners of travel agencies and facilitators does indeed vary and one example of an Iraqi organised crime group based in Sweden that owned an airline to facilitate their activities is perhaps the most extreme. The activities that a travel agent can provide in supporting an organised crime group are the provision of flight bookings with the capacity to change the identities, potentially to fit the identities mentioned in forged documents, shortly before departure. The bookings themselves can also be amended to a later date when the organised crime group in the transit or destination country may be more ready to accommodate them.
Travel agents can also provide a range of routes that will seek to avoid airports where it is known that local border guards are more successful in detecting cases of facilitated illegal immigration. This may also explain why illegal migrants will often use apparently very circuitous routes to reach the preferred destination. In short, travel agencies are to a certain extent ‘knowledge centres’ concerning what works with regards to the procurement of visas.
A current major issue for EU immigration authorities are immigrants who tend not to abuse EU asylum processes to establish residence. Many illegal immigrants have used air routes to reach the EU lawfully and they then outstay their visa.
The actual scale of trafficking in human beings across the EU and the numbers of victims who are exploited are not known but it is estimated that thousands of people each year are trafficked in the EU. A lack of reliable statistics is due to the absence of harmonised data collection across the EU. This situation is being improved with more and more National Rapporteurs being appointed (or equivalent mechanisms), the creation of the post of EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator within the European Commission, along with an oversight provided by GRETA (Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings) as appointed by the Council of Europe Convention on Action against trafficking in human beings.
Ü Eurasylum: Since facilitated illegal immigration is by definition a transnational crime, Europol promotes an investigative approach that includes multi-lateral and multi-agency cooperation between police and border management agencies, not only at national and regional level, but also with a number of third countries and organisations. Can you comment, briefly, on some of the key features of Europol’s cooperation with law enforcement agencies in third countries, and on any outcomes achieved by such cooperation in terms of improved prevention and apprehension of illegal migration/human trafficking activities in the European Union?
Ü Rob Wainwright: With regards to cooperation with third countries and multi-agency cooperation, one should distinguish between operational and strategic cooperation.
On the operational side Europol cooperates with Interpol, Eurojust and various third states with which Europol has an operational agreement, such as Switzerland and the US. This allows for the exchange of law enforcement operational data.
On the strategic side Europol is involved in three major EU-funded international projects aimed at improving cooperation with countries faced with facilitated illegal immigration.
The first is the Mediterranean Transit Migration (MTM) (See more details at www.icmpd.org under Dialogue on Mediterranean Transit Migration), whose overall objective is to support the beneficiaries (the 27 EU Member States and Europol partners, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey) to better understand the geographic and thematic contexts within which their migration policies and actions are implemented. This is done by conducting in-depth analyses on irregular migration and therefore assists them in improving their abilities to manage irregular migration flows. To this aim, an internet-based platform – MTM i-Map (See open version at www.imap.migration.org) – is used to foster the exchange of strategic information and spread the results amongst the beneficiaries. More specifically, the objectives of the MTM i-Map are to use it as a platform to enhance information exchange amongst the beneficiaries and provide them with in-depth analyses on the core elements of irregular migration management systems as identified by them; to focus particularly on irregular flows coming from the south (for beneficiaries in North Africa) and the east (for those in Turkey and the Middle East); to collect data and analyse the links between legal and irregular migration regarding the composition and evolution of irregular flows transiting through the countries; and to highlight the challenges of irregular migration at three levels: regional, national and local (hubs, airports, seaports).
Further projects in which Europol is involved are part of IMPACT LEN (See more and some joint products on www.unodc.org/undoc/en/basic-training-manual-on-investigation-and prosecuting-the-smuggling-of-migrants.html) which is a law enforcement capacity building project for West Africa and North Africa in preventing and combating the smuggling of migrants. The UNODC requested that Europol participates in the two IMPACT projects which aim to strengthen the criminal justice system response with the purpose of preventing and combating the smuggling of migrants from North and West Africa.
Europol maintains very good relationships with other countries such as Canada, the US and Australia. Many of the issues facing the EU are also faced by other developed countries and there is a regular exchange of strategic information between us so that new trends in facilitated illegal immigration can be shared with a view to improving the ways it can be combated.
On an operational level, Australia and Switzerland are both involved in our operational analysis project on trafficking in human beings (THB) and key partners – Eurojust, Frontex and Interpol – are sighted on all operational and strategic THB work. Additionally, beyond the formal cooperation agreements that Europol has with many third states and parties that provide for information and intelligence exchange, Europol has a history of providing strategic support in the field of preventing and combating trafficking in human beings to many countries through projects and programmes led by international organisations.
Typically this support deals with improving the levels of investigative expertise in the agencies responsible for investigating trafficking and covers both prevention and prosecution. Our support extends to international organisations such as OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), IOM (International Organization for Migration), ILO (International Labour Office), UNODC (United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime) and ICMPD (International Centre for Migration Policy Development). Europol’s THB experts have most recently provided their expertise to Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.