A look back at the European Migrant Smuggling Centre activities in 2018

25 March 2019
Press Release
Press Release/News
Same routes, new dangers as the EU continues to be a target for migrant smugglers and human traffickers

At times of reduced migration flows at EU external borders, the facilitation of illegal immigration within the EU poses a particular growing challenge. Law enforcement agencies across Europe also have to cope with increasingly exploitative criminal activities, associated with violence and serious harm to the life of irregular migrants. These are some of the findings of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC)’s Annual Activity Report, released today on the occasion of the Annual Conference of Heads of Counter Migrant Smuggling Units, hosted by Europol at its headquarters in The Hague.

The European Union continues to be a target for migrant smuggling services. This is reflected in the increasing number of cross-border criminal investigation supported by the EMSC’s – more than 5 258 new cases in 2018 alone.
Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine de Bolle, said: “The growing number of victims should worry us all and be a sign that the fight against this heinous form of crime needs to continue. Europol as the EU criminal information hub meets the need for cooperation and for sharing information within EU agencies as well as with the countries of destination, origin and transit affected by illegal migration”.

 EMSC – 2018 at a glance

The EMSC third year activity report details how 26 215 operational messages were submitted to the Centre via Europol’s secure communication network SIENA. These messages contained data on over 42 790 items serving to identify migrant smugglers and traffickers, helping launch 5 258 new international investigations.
The EMSC’s 49 experts helped Member States law enforcement agencies in tackling criminal networks during 53 Action Days on the ground, leading to more than 600 arrested suspects of migrant smuggling in 2018.

Intelligence picture

Hand in hand with the specialists and analysts providing direct support to Member States’ investigations, the EMSC delivered throughout the year strategic intelligence reports on migrant smuggling and human trafficking trends and modi operandi.

This year’s activity report reveals that:

  • Facilitated secondary movements gained significance specifically along the Balkan routes and across the English Channel, with France gaining in importance as a destination country.
  • Migrants hidden in concealments of cars, vans or lorries remains the most common modus operandi. More than 6,600 detections of irregular migrants in vehicles via the Balkans have been reported to Europol in 2018; almost 80% were hidden in concealments or transported with in high-risk circumstances.
  • Intra-Schengen flights to Northern EU countries by use of fraudulent document remains a frequently used modus operandi, with a steady increase in the number of migrants attempting to move directly from Greece to other parts of the EU’s Schengen area by using air routes, especially during the holiday season.
  • Misuse of asylum procedures have been increasingly detected by EU Member States; irregular migrants are, usually in an organised manner, taking advantage of the freedom of movement that comes with the status of recognised refugee and leave reception centres to move to other (EU) countries.
  • Visa free schemes or simple visa procedures between EU neighbouring countries and third countries may contribute to a rise of numbers of irregular migrants and victims of human trafficking. The introduction of the EU visa-free regime in June 2017 for Ukrainians did have an effect and is likely to further increase the number of trafficking from Ukraine as well as from Vietnam as it is an important transit country for Vietnamese migrants.
  • Europol receives regular notifications of children being sold to criminal networks by their families for trafficking purposes. In some cases, they engage directly in the trafficking and exploitation of their own children. Female suspects play a key role in the trafficking and exploitation of minors, much more than in criminal networks that traffic adult victims.

The need for tackling OCGs and their callous and inhuman business is higher than ever. Europol’s EMSC will keep on gathering relevant intelligence and provide agile and tailor-made operational support to Member States' investigations and to connect and coordinate among law enforcement agencies.

Read the full report here: EMSC 3rd ANNUAL ACTIVITY REPORT – 2018