EU police agency opens new unit to tackle migrant smuggling

Mike Corder (Associated Press) - February 22, 2016 - 2:11pm

THE HAGUE — The European Union's police organization launched a new unit yesterday dedicated to tackling migrant smuggling as part of the 28-nation bloc's efforts to stem the flow of people pouring into the continent as they flee conflict and poverty.

Europol Director Rob Wainwright called migrant smuggling, "the fastest-growing criminal sector in Europe," and said his organization estimates that nine out of every 10 asylum-seekers arriving in Europe have their travel facilitated by a criminal smuggling network.

The new center set up at Europol's headquarters in The Hague is intended to help EU member states improve their exchange of information and operational coordination. Wainwright said he is also discussing greater cooperation with authorities in Turkey, the departure point for the vast majority of refugees heading to Europe.

According to a Europol report, criminal networks involved in people smuggling had an estimated turnover last year of 3-6 billion euros ($3.3-6.6 billion), as more than 1 million migrants arrived. The police coordination body helped in 1,551 cross-border migrant smuggling investigations last year.

The smugglers provide migrants with transport, forged travel documents and sometimes put them to work to pay off the money they owe for their tickets to Europe.

EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos said cooperation between Europol and the bloc's border control agency Frontex will help to crack down on smugglers, but he warned that EU nations have to help, too.

"This center will only contribute to fighting smuggling if national law enforcement agencies share quality information," Avramopoulos said.

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