Europol 2011 Organised Crime Threat Assessment – Illegal Immigration and THB

Europol just issued its 2011 Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA) (OCTA_2011-1).  The report contains Europol’s assessments regarding “current and expected trends in organised crime affecting the European Union.”  Among the topics discussed are the facilitation of illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings.

The report notes that the increased control of the external borders of the EU, combined with other immigration controls, has resulted in irregular migrants turning to organised crime groups to facilitate their entry to the EU.  The report notes that increased enforcement activities which successfully reduce illegal immigration in certain areas may result in substantial increases in illegal immigration in other areas.

The report indicates that organised criminal groups are exploiting and will continue to exploit the social and political unrest in North Africa and that organised crime groups are responsible for facilitating the movement of the thousands of Tunisians who have entered Italy.

The report notes that the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen zone “may yield increased illicit traffic through these countries and the possible displacement of illegal immigration flows from the Turkish-Greek border.”

Excerpts from the 38 page report pertaining to the facilitation of illegal immigration:

“[I]ncreasing control of external borders, the introduction of higher quality travel documents and other protective measures implemented by destination countries are making illegal immigration more difficult for individual migrants, forcing them to seek the services of organised crime groups.

International agreements and coordinated law enforcement activities have a significant impact on the flows of illegal immigrants along established routes. In 2010, a sharp reduction in the use of sea routes was accompanied by a substantial increase in illegal overland entries, overwhelmingly concentrated on the Turkish-Greek border.

Besides being the natural gateway for immigrants from the Middle East and Asia, Turkey is now the final step towards the EU for migrants with many other origins, including North and West Africans. Its geographical position, the presence of historical smuggling routes and the comparative ease with which entry visas may be obtained have transformed Turkey into the main nexus point for illegal immigrants on their way to Europe.

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Legislation aimed at safeguarding certain inalienable individual or social rights is manipulated by organised crime groups with specialist expertise. Political asylum requests, and family reunions following marriages of convenience with EU citizens, are among the most frequently abused procedures. In addition, a prevalent tactic is to exploit loopholes and the lack of harmonisation in current legislation.

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Criminal Groups

Organised crime groups involved in the facilitation of illegal immigrants tend to be structured in loose networks of smaller groups with ethnic or other cultural connections to customers. By the same token, illegal immigrants tend to be recruited by, or approach facilitators from, the same ethnic background. However, few criminal groups have the capacity to manage all stages from source to destination country. The further migrants get from their country of origin, the greater the chance that their facilitators will be of an ethnic origin different from their own. Along the route, small local criminal groups receive and house transiting illegal immigrants, facilitating their passage to the next stage. In the often extended time between stages, transiting migrants are frequently exploited in illicit labour, thus marking a point of contact between illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings (THB).

Organised crime groups in destination countries play a fundamental role in the smuggling of migrants. Criminals, often legitimately resident in the EU, facilitate the last step of the migrants’ journey, in some cases collecting final instalments of transportation fees, and are in an ideal position to profit from newly arrived migrants, sometimes employing forms of exploitation typical of THB.

The most widely reported organised crime groups involved in the facilitation of illegal immigration are of Chinese, Turkish, Albanian, Indian, Iraqi, and Russian origin. Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, and some West African groups are among the most capable, managing all successive phases of illegal immigration from source to destination countries. Although these groups may sub-contract part of the transportation or the production of falsified documents, they maintain effective control over the illegal immigrants throughout.

The growing importance of Turkey as a nexus point for migrants is likely to be further exploited by Turkish organised crime groups already extremely skilled in managing routes for illicit commodities and will make the most of their resources and contacts in the EU to maximise profits from this lucrative criminal market….

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Criminal hubs

Political and legislative initiatives impact on regional dynamics, resulting in frequent shifts between hubs and preferred nexus points outside the EU.

Migrant flows across the Mediterranean Sea and illicit entries at the Eastern land borders have both significantly decreased. Greece is now the focus for illegal entry to the EU, and while levels of illegal migration connected with seasonal work patterns between Albania and Greece have decreased in the last year, illicit entries of migrants from Turkey have increased by over 500 per cent between 2009 and 2010

The South East criminal hub is therefore under the heaviest pressure. As a result also of its proximity to the Western Balkans, the hub’s centre of gravity for this criminal problem is currently Greece.

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The Southern criminal hub is a landing zone for many immigrants who have entered the EU through Greece, and who either remain in Italy or proceed to other MS. Illegal immigrants are often exploited or employed by organised crime groups active in the hub.

Emerging and Future Issues

The social and political unrest pervading North Africa since January 2011 is likely to have a significant impact on the internal security of Southern Europe. By exploiting the present political vacuum and the diminution of police capability to maintain public order and combat criminal activity, organised crime groups are facilitating several thousands of illegal immigrants, mainly of Tunisian origin, in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe. This carries an inherent risk to the internal security of the EU.

The large and growing number of illegal immigrants from countries and regions in which Islamist terrorist groups are active – such as Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia – raises the possibility that channels for illegal immigration will be used increasingly by those seeking to engage in terrorist activity in the EU.

In the absence of any significant harmonisation of standards with regards to visa issue for a variety of purposes (including settlement for marriage and family reunions) a further increase in the abuse of legitimate migration procedures is likely.

The possible accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen Zone will greatly widen the Eastern green and blue borders. This has the potential to release the pressure on the Turkish-Greek border, and lead to increased targeting of Bulgaria and the Black Sea coast by illegal immigrants and their facilitators.

Turkish organised crime groups, currently in a dominant position at the biggest nexus point for migrants, will exploit further opportunities for delivering illegal immigrants to the EU by means of the Black Sea and the flourishing Turkish diaspora in Bulgaria….

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… The role of the Western Balkans as a logistical hub will be sustained and may even grow further, while the proposed accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen zone may yield increased illicit traffic through these countries and the possible displacement of illegal immigration flows from the Turkish-Greek border. In this event, Member States in South East Europe may require additional operational support. In light of the continued prominence throughout the EU of Albanian speaking criminal groups, strategic and operational partnerships with authorities in the Western Balkans will be increasingly important.

Ongoing political instability in countries close to the borders of the EU and transit areas for illicit commodities has the potential to alter trafficking routes and create new illegal migration flows. In countries such as Tunisia and Egypt the process by which serving regimes are replaced may result in power and investment vacuums in both the public and private sectors. Some of these could be filled by those with sufficient resources to exploit the instability for criminal ends, including EU organised crime groups. In politically fragile environments organised crime can also prosper by providing essential services such as transport infrastructure, and food and fuel supply. The effects of illegal immigration as a result of instability in North Africa – already experienced by Italy – are likely to spread if levels of unrest persist or increase. Should living conditions deteriorate in the longer term, the EU is likely to see an increase also in victims of THB from this region….

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Click on this link OCTA_2011-1 for OCTA report.

Click here for Europol press release.

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