Migrant smuggling

Group of people on a dinghy (Photo © Shutterstock)

Migrant smuggling crimes are committed by connected organised criminal groups (OCGs) or by transnational OCGs working in trafficking routes, often ruthlessly endangering the life and limb of migrants throughout the journey by land, air or sea.

To successfully disrupt and prosecute intricate international smuggling routes, it is important to involve both the judiciary, law enforcement and border control authorities from all countries along the migrant smuggling route, from the countries of origin outside the EU, the countries of transit and the destination countries in Europe.

These authorities need to share information, trigger investigations in all countries where OCG cells operate, work out a coordinated prosecutorial and investigative strategy, obtain admissible evidence, and ensure an effective seizure and confiscation of the assets.

Migrant smuggling criminal groups regularly also engage in related crimes, such as money laundering and illegal attempts to obtain citizenship of an EU Member State through document forgery and sham marriages. Other crime groups turn on their customers and make them victims of human trafficking for modern slavery.

Specific challenges

The growing number of incidents affecting Member States in the Mediterranean and elsewhere has made tackling migrant smuggling a priority for the European Union. The complex nature of cases makes effective cooperation essential: throughout the journey by land, air or sea, various organised crime groups (OCGs) may be involved in transporting individuals from their country of origin to the intended destination.

Since migrant smuggling crimes are committed by connected OCGs working in smuggling routes, often ruthlessly endangering the life and limb of migrants, the investigations coordinated through Eurojust aim to cover criminal activity along all major migrant smuggling routes to the European Union. To connect the dots, the involvement of authorities from all countries concerned by each cell in the migrant smuggling paths is essential, including with the countries of origin and transit outside Europe.

The fragmented, transnational and complex nature of these activities present clear obstacles for investigators and judicial practitioners:

  • An analysis by Eurojust showed that nearly 75% of cases involve more than two Member States, easily triggering parallel investigations carrying a high risk of conflicts of jurisdiction.

  • National authorities also face particular challenges in securing admissible evidence, particularly on the high seas.

  • Poly-criminality: The OCGs regularly also engage in related forms of crime, such as document fraud and money laundering. Some offer a ‘smuggling service package’ that can include illegal attempts to obtain citizenship of an EU Member State. Such activities of a hybrid nature (criminal and civil law) may generate specific jurisdictional and legislative challenges when for example the act of entering into a sham marriage is considered a crime in certain Member States but not in others. Some smuggling OCGs even turn on their customers and make them victims of human trafficking for modern slavery.

 

Eurojust's support

Migrant smuggling cases in 2020

In order to be successful in the fight against migrant smuggling, early involvement of the judiciary and of international cooperation is crucial. To successfully disrupt and prosecute intricate international smuggling routes, judicial authorities must work together to share information, obtain admissible evidence, trigger investigations in all countries where OCG cells operate, and aim for a coordinated prosecutorial and investigative strategy as well as effective seizure and confiscation of the assets.

The nearly 220 cases focusing on migrant smuggling investigations coordinated through Eurojust in 2020, often in close cooperation with Europol, aimed to cover criminal activity along all major migrant smuggling routes to the European Union. In addition, Eurojust launched a Focus Group for Prosecutors on Migrant Smuggling and published a new casework report that analysed cross-border investigations tackling sham marriages, since such marriages of convenience are one of the main forms of facilitating irregular migration.

Key operational results include:

The cases regularly involve the full participation of third countries. Eurojust has designated contact points in non-EU countries with whom it can liaise at both strategic and operational level in specific cases. Further, Eurojust helps involved authorities to develop links with relevant European and international organisations such as EUNAVFOR MED, the EMSC, Frontex and UNODC.

Focus Group

focus group on migrant smuggling

To further strengthen the fight against migrant smuggling, Eurojust supports a Focus Group for Prosecutors on Migrant Smuggling. It is composed of prosecutors specialised in migrant smuggling from all EU Member States and brings together all concerned actors in the security and criminal justice chain.

The Focus Group serves as an important hub to regularly connect the key judicial actors at national level in the EU Member States who are responsible for tackling migrant smuggling crimes, to support their joint operational response.

Key activities include:

  • sharing best practices from landmark migrant smuggling investigations;

  • analysing trends and new developments in the operating tactics by organised crime groups (OCGs) active in migrant smuggling;

  • studying the impact of shifts in migrant smuggling routes; and

  • gathering input from judicial practitioners on current specific challenges and discuss the opportunities of judicial cooperation in fighting this specific type of cross-border crime.

Focus Group for Prosecutors on Migrant Smuggling

Migrant smuggling crimes are committed by connected organised crime groups (OCGs) working in trafficking rings, often ruthlessly endangering the life and limb of the migrants throughout the journey by land, air or sea.

In addition to facilitating regular information exchange, supporting the analytical work and ensuring the functioning of the Focus Group, Eurojust hosts an annual meeting at its premises in The Hague.

The creation of the Focus Group follows an initiative of the European Council of October 2018, when EU leaders decided to step up the crackdown on migrant smuggling at EU level. On 6 December 2018, the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the European Union approved a ‘comprehensive and operational set of measures’ to advance the response to migrant smuggling networks, based on an enhanced inter-agency approach both at EU and national level.

Eurojust is at the centre of the judicial component of implementing this intensified operational response. One of the adopted measures includes a call for Eurojust ‘to continue facilitating the networking of practitioners to foster the exchange of best practice, identify challenges and lessons learned in investigation and prosecuting migrant smuggling cases, including by considering the necessity to set up a prosecutors’ network to that end’ (Council document 15250/18).

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