What do you know about the European Migrant Smuggling Centre?

 A long read from Are You Syrious on the EUROPOL project, and whom it really helps. Content warning: police violence

‘’Protecting people, especially the most vulnerable ones, has to be the top priority for all police forces on this planet” — Robert Črepinko, head of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre.

“ A woman was placed in a container where the air-conditioning was set to cold. When she asked during the night if they could turn it off the police said: “Shut up and go back to bed!” even though there is no bed or any possibility of sleeping.

During this day, seven people, including a pregnant woman, were hiding in the train toilets trying to cross the border. The pregnant woman was standing directly behind the door which opens inward. When the police checked the train they told the people in the toilet to get out and started kicking the door. The woman got hit by the door several times on her belly. The police then pepper sprayed the toilets. When everyone eventually got out, some men were beaten and the woman was screaming in pain. She asked the police to call an ambulance but they refused, saying she was just pretending. She was brought to the same container with the air-conditioning and the other woman, where she was still crying from pain and probably scared as well. The other woman asked for an ambulance for the pregnant woman but the PAF refused again, saying: “Shut up, she’s fine! The baby is OK, she was fine before!”. When the pregnant woman came out of the container she had trouble walking and was terrified. A Red Cross van took her to the camp where she has the opportunity to speak to NGOs and see a doctor.”

A testimony from volunteers near the Italian-French border, where police brutality thrives. Read Kesha Niya’s post for more testimonies.

It should be noted that the aforementioned European Migrant Smuggling Centre was a special EUROPOL project that was initiated on 22 February 2016 with the express purpose of “supporting cross-border investigations to disrupt and prosecute organised crime groups.” As we may remember this period was in the ongoing tussle in closing the EU-Turkey deal, but by 9 March the countries along the so-called “Balkan Route” closed in a cascade.

Although the centre was ostensibly founded as a reaction to the crisis in 2015, if its express purpose was to combat organized crime, this project was clearly putting the cart before the horse. In a report published by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, a distinction is made between a “Benign Smuggling Network” and a “Criminal Smuggling Network.” Furthermore although there is a variety of contributing factors for transforming a Benign Smuggling Network into a Criminal Smuggling Network, including an increase in demand, the researchers highlight that securitization is the primary factor in pushing a benign network to become criminal.

A regrettable self-reinforcing negative spiral comes to play where a securitized response to irregular migration and human smuggling is enacted: the smuggling industry shifts across the spectrum from a community mechanism to a corrupt, violent industry, controlled by organized-crime groups.Repeatedly building barriers without providing any alternatives or forcing the displaced into camps where their needs are partially and poorly met creates large population groups that can become a source of social unrest. They come to constitute a tinderbox of violent discontent and are a prime recruiting ground not only for smugglers and traffickers, but also for local militias, those involved in conflicts and predatory terrorist groups. (Understanding contemporary human smuggling as a vector in migration, 19)

Confirming what we already knew which is that securitization only strengthens and lays the groundwork for larger criminal networks to step in and manage the situations where people wish to move. Yet in spite of this knowledge, the EU and its collaborators went ahead with enforcing a hot-spot scheme and, rather than in response to but more likely in anticipation of the strengthening of criminal smuggling networks (planted by their own seeds), further invested in securitizing the border.

Even Mr. Črepinko himself admits this in the foreword to the 2017 and 2018 EMSC report:

“With improved border controls, migrants are deterred from attempting to illegally cross borders by themselves and are diverted into the hands of smugglers who put migrants’ lives at serious risk and therefore pose a security challenge to the internal security of the European Union (EU).”

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What have their efforts yielded? In the two-year report published by the EMSC, they highlighted their great successes, including the identification of 137 cases of vulnerable and exploited children, theoretically removing them from the situations where they were in the grey zone between smuggled and trafficked. One hundred thirty-seven cases. This stands out in the context noted by EUROPOL, the “parent” of the EMSC, that 10,000 refugee children are missing, most likely trafficked. One hundred thirty-seven cases out of 10,000. Forgive us if we don’t doff our caps in awe.

Another goal of the EMSC was to “strengthen cross-border collaboration” in the fight against organized crime. With the astounding resources invested in this project, one would have expected far better results. Instead, the grand total of cases identified came to around 1,400. Moreover, it seems that EUROPOL for all of its resources and cross-border collaboration, has done precious little to investigate the violation of return agreements from Croatia to Bosnia. Even if one were to ignore the human rights angle of pushbacks, Croatian police refusing to abide by the rule of readmission agreements with Bosnia surely should raise some interest to the European Police. Perhaps this is not their jurisdiction, but then the greater question arises — whose is it? Surely if a task force can be set up to combat an extraordinary circumstance, this could be done again.

A large proportion of EMSC focus is on investigating and disrupting rings of counterfeit documents, but where is the investigation into vulnerable people who are being forced, under duress, to sign documents they don’t understand? Until these agencies discuss the well-documented impact of police violence and brutality and securitization and how it only strengthens criminal smuggling networks, taking their goals seriously remains impossible. As has been mentioned in previous digests, the experiments of state repression are enacted first on the most vulnerable. Another crucial passage in the report from EMSC is in regards to one of their investigative spheres, namely “the abuse of visa-free travel.”

“Irregular migrants attempt to enter the EU via non-EU Balkan countries by air, using visa-free travel schemes. Several Balkan countries introduced visa liberalisation for citizens of, among others, China, Guinea Bissau, Iran or Turkey which allows them to enter a country as tourists with the right to stay up to 30 days. This visa-free scheme is often abused and migrants, upon arrival to the Balkan countries, use the opportunity to establish contacts with smuggling networks and illegally travel to countries in Western Europe. For example, since visa liberalisation in September 2017, Serbia, and especially Belgrade airport, has seen a surge in the number of Iranians who use visa-free travel to Serbia to then enter the EU illegally.”

The idea is that a visa-liberalization program is predicated on the idea that it will not “be abused” — visas are a privilege, don’t abuse them or we can easily illegalize your existence in new ways. This framing of how people choose to travel criminalizes the person on the move, although the ostensible focus of this task force should be on those facilitating the journey (this report ignores any idea of a benign network), through the “abuse” of a visa, the person becomes their own smuggler, doubly illegal. Illegal for attempting to enter the EU via irregular ways and illegal for “abusing” the privilege to visa-free travel to Serbia, for example.

As we mourn the two boys who died this past week, one boy in France and one boy in England, we are reminded of the tragic consequences of this ineffective (or rather all too effective) border regime. What people have left behind them is often already traumatizing enough, their journey only heightens this, and as we erect more barriers, we only jeopardize their safety — no amount of high-minded language can change the reality.

We strongly recommend reading this analysis of the actors involved in smuggling networks — with an approach that focuses on the people who are truly at risk.


via Are You Syrious

Photo: Kesha Niya