EU policies on migrant smuggling:a meagre impact

@The European Union

By Marie-Claire IDE

The war in Syria and the presence of ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan have pushed people to flee their country. After the Middle East countries, Europe is their main destination. According to the Belgian Federal Migration Centre (Myria)’s 2016 report, more than 1.2 million people have applied for asylum in Europe in 2015. Among them, 29% Syrians, 14% Afghans and 10% Iraqis. This number is 123% higher than in 2014.
According to 2016 Frontex “Risk Analysis” report, Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis “have a choice” between taking the Balkan route or the eastern route of the Mediterranean, while Eritreans, Nigerians and Somalis have no choice but the central route of the Mediterranean in order to reach the European coasts. Figures from the International Organization on Migration indicate that nearly 14,000 migrants have died or disappeared the last four years in the Mediterranean sea: 3,283 in 2014, 3,784 in 2015, 5,098 in 2016 and more than three thousands in 2017.

Migrant trafficking and extortion is a very profitable business, leading to the proliferation of criminal organizations with violent methods. Europol has estimated the smuggling business in Libya at 4.5 billion euros in 2015. According to Hervé Bléjean in the Belgian newspaper Les Echos, “this represents 35% of the country’s GDP. In the ports of departure, more than 50% of the economy”. IOM confirms that after the trafficking of arms and drugs, human trafficking comes third in the most lucrative sectors for organized crime.

@The European Union

The European Union’s divisive measures

The EU has launched the EUNAVFOR MED programme, more commonly known as Operation Sophia. This military operation is part of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) and aims at dismantling the economic model of smugglers in the southern part of the central Mediterranean. It performs two tasks: training Libyan coastguards and sailors, and contributing to the implementation of the UN arms embargo.
The PSCD is an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Although European states retain full sovereignty over their respective foreign policies, they still share a number of common interests. Thanks to the CFSP, the EU can assert itself by speaking with one voice on the international stage, and the 28 members act together.
Many voices oppose European policies, among MEPs or in European civil society.

IN 2016, the EP voted two Resolutions on human rights and migration in third countries (2015/2316(INI)), and on the Situation in the Mediterranean and need for a holistic EU approach to migration (2015/2095(INI)), with a large consensus. Stressing out the fact that “saving lives must be a first priority and that proper funding, at Union and Member State level, for search and rescue operations is essential”, the second text notably asks for “solidarity and a fair sharing of responsibility” between member states in refugees’ settlement and integration. It was adopted with 459 votes in favor, 206 against and 52 abstentions. The Social Democrats (S & D) and the European People’s Party (EPP) – from which the co-rapporteurs of the dossier, Cécile Kashetu Kyenge and Roberta Metsola – came from, the Liberals (ALDE) and the European Greens (Greens / EFA) supported the text.  The votes “against” the resolution included the majority of the British Conservatives (ECR) and the group of Europe of Nations and Freedoms (ENL). The ECR vote was based on the rejection on principle of European integration, whatever the subject.

Among ENL MEPs, Gerolf Annemans, part of the far-right Belgian Party Vlams Belang uses the anti-immigration rhetoric of its group: “We want Europe to stop welcoming and feeding everyone. People’s problems have to stay where they are. We can help them in their countries, but they should not come to Europe as they used to do. Migrant trafficking is because of the EU. They have been told too much that they can come, it must stop”.

The majority of Radical Left MEPs (GUE/NGL) abstained, denouncing the security approach to European migration policies as well as the agreement with Turkey.

@Marie-Claire IDE

Voices of the civil society : “opening legal routes is the only way”

Cécile Vanderstappen, researcher at the CNCD-11.11.11 is also denouncing the preponderant role of the EU policies in the proliferation of migrant smuggling in Libya, but with a fully opposite argument to that of Mr. Annemans: “If the EU assumed legal migration routes, there would not be trafficking. The development of this trade is proportional to the locking of legal routes. The drastic conditions for the issuance of visas only increase the migrants smuggling “. According to her, it is important to put pressure on MEPs, looking ahead to the 2019 European elections: “MEPs listen to public opinion because they have a short-sighted vision. Mobilizing is a way to make oneself heard “.

The CNN report on ‘slave markets’ published on 14 November 2017 fuelled NGOs with new hopes. On 13 December 2017, the day before a meeting of the European Council, we met Cathy, Maëlle, Matthieu, Philippe and Margueritte in a demonstration in Brussels.

“A few weeks ago, we said that there is a real slave market in Libya, and all the EU do is send the migrants back there,” denounced Cathy. Maëlle continued: “the European Union must assume its responsibilities “. Philippe hopes that their demonstration will influence the European summit: “we must demonstrate to be heard, this is the only way. We have our say in all that “.

@Marie-Claire IDE


The European summit went against their demands. Cécile Vanderstappen is saddened: “There has been no questioning, despite CNN’s report on the trafficking of migrants in Libya. They want to turn Libya and Niger into shelters and to seek migrants through resettlement. It’s not what we want. “

Vit Novotsny, researcher for migration at the Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies, the official lobby of the European People’s Party (EPP), says the best way to fight human trafficking and smuggling is to working with the states in Transit “We need to strengthen our military presence in Libya so that what we have seen in the CNN report will never happen again.” Vit Novotsny did not take a position on the issue of legal ways of migration, because of the important divergences inside the EPP group.
More than two years and a half after its launch, Operation Sophia has a rather meager record. According to the latest figures issued in May 2018, only 143 suspected smugglers were intercepted. For Enrico Credendino, commander of operations, this is due to the ban on entering Libyan territorial waters. For Philippe Hensmans, director of the Belgian section of Amnesty International, this is due to “a lack of will on the part of the EU”.

On 14 May 2018, the Council adopted a decision allowing for the creation of a crime information cell within EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia “to facilitate the receipt, collection and transmission of information on human smuggling and trafficking, the implementation of the UN arms embargo on Libya, illegal trafficking, as well as crimes relevant to the security of the operation itself”. Will it have a real impact?