What should be done in order to strengthen the effectiveness of EU’s action to disrupt the activity of criminal networks involved in the smuggling of migrants? How could the existing legislation on migrant smuggling be improved? Should the criminal sanctions be increased for those who facilitate illegal entry, transit and residence in the EU? What can be done to avoid risks of criminalisation of those providing assistance to migrants for humanitarian reasons?
The European Commission has launched a public consultation to gather views and on the functioning of the existing legislation aiming at preventing and countering migrant smuggling and on what could be done to further strengthen it. The improvement of the existing legislation is one of the priority actions identified by the European Agenda on Migration and the EU Action Plan on migrant smuggling, two of the Commission’s strategic initiatives adopted in May 2015.
The consultation invites a wide array of stakeholders (individuals, governmental organisations, private enterprises, NGOs, etc.) to express their opinions on the existing EU legal framework.
"Smuggling is dangerous and exposes people to unsafe and inhumane travelling conditions. […] To protect people from these criminals, the European Union has undertaken many important initiatives to tackle smuggling, resulting in the arrest of hundreds of facilitators. […] Another important element that emerged strongly from the discussions on countering smuggling is that NGOs - and local and regional authorities - which provide assistance to smuggled migrants shall not be criminalised. I fully agree with this, of course, as I also agree on the need to protect the fundamental rights of those who are being smuggled. Those who we need to punish are the smugglers!" said Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship.
The consultation is open until 6 April 2016.
In face of constant tragedies at European borders, enhancing prevention and disruption of migrant smuggling has become a major priority. Both the European Agenda on Security and the European Agenda on Migration launched by the Commission in April and May 2015 considered that adopting an appropriate and effective EU criminal framework was essential for the EU’s renewed efforts to prevent further loss of lives caused by the perilous journeys organised by criminal rings and to curb migrant smuggling.
The two legal instruments subject to this public consultation, adopted in 2002, are Directive 2002/90/EC defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence, and Framework Decision 2002/946/JHA on the strengthening of the penal framework to prevent the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence.
Available data and analysis indicate a substantial increase in the flows of migrants who are being smuggled to the EU in recent years. The overall number of detections of illegal EU external border crossings reported in the first three quarters of 2015 is more than 710,000 compared with 282,000 registered in 2014.
In this context, migrant smuggling is also increasingly related to violations of human rights and death of migrants. In 2014, over 3,000 migrants are estimated to have lost their lives in the Mediterranean and already more than 3,400 were found dead or missing in 2015.
This situation harms not only the safety and security of migrants, but also that of EU citizens. It has an effect on business operators in sectors such as the fishing and shipping industry, the air and land transport sectors, civil society and migrants’ organizations working in the migration and asylum fields.