EU Interior Ministers to Step Up Cooperation Against Human Smuggling in Central Europe

Migrants on a train near Presevo, Serbia, November 2015 (Photo: European Union/ECHO/Mathias Eick)

On Monday, interior ministers from six EU member states announced that their countries had decided to intensify measures to guard the union against illegal migration and to target networks of people smugglers operating within its borders.

At a summit in the southern Hungarian city of Szeged, five miles (8 kilometres) from the bloc’s border with Serbia, the ministers of the V4 group of Central European countries—the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia—were joined by their counterparts from Austria and Germany.

Certain European Union governments express concern that the growing pressure stemming from the Balkan migration route—which stretches from Serbia into Hungary—needs a more forceful reaction from neighbouring nations.

This Schengen is not That Schengen Anymore

Recently, various member states of the European Union have temporarily established static and mobile checkpoints along their borders with other EU countries to prevent people smugglers from transporting migrants to Central and Western Europe via routes through the Balkans.

Within the Schengen visa-free travel zone – of which all the above-mentioned countries are members of –, borders typically have no passport or document checks.

Details Have Emerged on How Human Smuggling Networks Operate

Migrant smuggling is a highly profitable and highly organized business that poses significant dangers for migrants. Some smuggling networks transport thousands of migrants to Europe.

A little more than a year ago, in June 2022 Europol, the law enforcement agency of the EU arrested eight persons heavily involved in human smuggling. According to Europol, which coordinated the operation, the targets facilitated the smuggling of at least 10,000 individuals – mainly Afghan, Pakistani and Syrian migrants – to the EU. This helped shed light on how human smuggling networks are operated.

The suspects’ “large-scale” and cross-border smuggling business utilized “cargo bays of lorries, closed vans and personal cars to smuggle migrants from Turkey through the Western Balkans region, Romania and Hungary towards Austria, Germany and the Netherlands,” according to a Europol press release published June 3.

Migrants were charged between €4,000 to €10,000 to be moved across Europe’s internal borders “in extremely poor and often life-threatening conditions,” Europol said. The smugglers advertised their illicit services on social media platforms “to convince the migrants’ relatives that it was safe,” and often used short videos to build trust and “sell their supposedly safe smuggling services.”

According to the press release, the underground financial system known as hawala was the main way for migrants to pay the smugglers. Such an informal network of money transfers conducted through face-to-face transactions is “far more difficult to trace than bank transfers,” news agency AFP reported.

The operation was launched in August 2021 and involved German, Austrian, Hungarian, Romanian, Serbian and Dutch law enforcement agencies.

Earlier this month, two men said to be people smugglers were taken into custody in Hungary following a car chase in which they opened fire on police. 21 migrants were found inside the suspects’ van.

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