The COVID-19 health crisis has led many countries around the world to close their external borders. In these circumstances, criminals are finding new ways to abuse the vulnerability of irregular migrants wishing to enter Europe and those victimised in labour or sexual exploitation schemes.
A few weeks ago, the European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) published a report that looks back at the operations supported in 2019, and the intelligence gathered to study the possible evolution of these crime areas in the upcoming months.
Enhanced border control measures and travel restrictions put in place throughout the EU have led to a shift in the smuggling activities from air to land and sea routes. Small boats are increasingly being used to cross river borders, for example, and there has been a rise in the use of freight vehicles and cargo trains to move people.
The travel restrictions may complicate the employment of seasonal labour in the agricultural sector, and the closing of establishments offering sexual services may increase sexual exploitation.
Some of the main threats identified by the EMSC include:
- Attempts by the Turkish authorities to facilitate large groups of migrants towards and across the Turkish-Greek land border.
- The transportation of migrants in life-threatening conditions hidden in concealed compartments of vehicles mostly in the Western Balkans region.
- An increased use of fraudulently obtained visas and document fraud in general.
- The increased vulnerability to abuse and violence of unaccompanied migrants along migration routes towards the EU.
- The potential vulnerability to exploitation by traffickers of irregular migrants in remote locations.
- Increased migrant transit within the EU.
Sexual exploitation is the most reported purpose for human traffickers in the EU, mainly with victims from Eastern and Central Europe and Nigeria. Nigerian criminal networks exploit their own nationals, recruited locally and indoctrinated through voodoo beliefs and rituals.
Highlights of the EMSC’s work in 2019 include:
- 5,853 cases of human trafficking detected.
- 19,211 suspects identified.
- Nine far-reaching investigations.
- Seven EMPACT Joint Action Days with 26 EU Member States.
- 71 on-the-spot action days with Europol experts.
- Development of five strategic intelligence reports.