The European Commission (EC) has proposed harmonizing the legislation and penalties for those responsible for migrant smuggling in the European Union (EU), so that the most serious cases, for example the death of migrants during crossings, can be punished with a maximum penalty of at least 15 years in prison.
This will mean toughening the penalties for this type of crime, which in current legislation ranges from 8 years, the Commission indicated in a statement. Today Brussels presented proposals (a directive and a regulation) to update the current legislative framework, which is twenty years old.
The current legislative framework has been in force for twenty years
The aim is to help pursue and punish criminal networks responsible for human trafficking and extend jurisdiction to cases where non-EU citizens lose their lives, such as when ships using these networks sink in waters. international affairs, said the European Commissioner for the Interior, Ylva Johansson, at a press conference.
The presentation of the new regulations coincided with the holding of a high-level international conference in Brussels with the aim of promoting cooperation against migrant smuggling. According to the Commission, these networks, which are simultaneously dedicated to drug and arms smuggling, obtain profits from their criminal activities around the world ranging between 4.7 and 6 billion euros per year (5.1 and 6.6 billion dollars).
90% of irregular entries in 2022 were through human trafficking
The EU registered around 331,000 irregular entries at its external borders in 2022, more than 90% through human trafficking networks. On the other hand, the loss of life on these dangerous journeys is a constant and in the Mediterranean alone more than 28,000 people have drowned or disappeared since 2014, according to data from the Commission.
The president of the EC, Ursula von der Leyen, invited today, at the opening of the international conference, to create a global alliance against migrant smuggling, a “common challenge” that transcends borders.
The Commission proposed this Tuesday to improve its legislative framework with minimum standards to prevent and counteract aiding unauthorized entry, transit and stay in the EU. On the one hand, it plans to effectively prosecute organized criminal networks, with a clearer definition of the crime of smuggling to focus on activities motivated by financial or material benefit or with a high probability of causing serious harm to a person.
The regulations will also consider public instigation to move to the EU as a crime
Public incitement to move to the EU without authorization will also become a criminal offense and will include advertising made through digital tools and social networks. The Interior Commissioner specified that the objective is to attack criminal networks and that humanitarian aid NGOs that carry out search and rescue tasks at sea will not be criminalized.
The regulations also provide for harmonized penalties that reflect the seriousness of the crime, so that aggravated crimes (that cause the death of one or more people) will be punished with a maximum prison sentence of at least 15 years.
Another aim is to improve the scope of jurisdiction so that Member States’ regulations also apply when ships sink in international waters and people die. These laws will be extended to other cases, including crimes committed on board ships or aircraft registered in Member States.
Countries will also be asked to work on the prevention of migrant smuggling with information and awareness campaigns, and will be urged to collect and present statistical data annually to improve case detection and response.
Humanitarian aid NGOs will not be criminalized
Furthermore, the new rules may require Member States to have the necessary judicial and police authorities to ensure effective prevention, investigation and prosecution of offenders.
The Community Executive wants to give the Europol agency a more relevant role, and proposes creating the European Center against Illicit Migrant Smuggling for operational actions and investigations in the EU. This will help, defends Brussels, to improve the exchange of information between the EU, the United States, Europol and other community agencies (Eurojust, Frontex), as well as third countries.
The EC proposes to create the European Center against Illicit Migrant Smuggling
The Commission’s legislative proposals will now be negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council (EU member countries).
The Commission also committed to working to advance the global alliance against the smuggling of migrants announced today at the international conference. To this end, there will be periodic meetings to review progress, the next one being in Copenhagen in the spring of 2024.