Is the EU competent enough to fight human smuggling in 2015?

Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in charge of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship at plenary session, week 03 2015, during his speak (EP Audiovisual Services, 13/01/2015).

Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in charge of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship
at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, week 03 2015, during his speach (EP Audiovisual Services, 13/01/2015)

That the European Union is facing its big problem of exorbitant illegal immigration is not news. How can it be in a gigantic region of 28 countries spreading around the Old Continent? And most of all one of the top five coastline lengths in the world with some 70,000 km coasts bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and the Baltic Sea? The geography of the Union combined with its very high living standards makes Europe number one “wanna live” target for millions of people around the planet who are living under horrible regimes and conditions.

And of course Europe has always showed its humanitarian principles by providing help to the illegal immigrants found on abandoned vessels in the Adriatic, securing them a safe return or provide opportunities for better safer relocations or integration in the European society. One would believe that the EU is highly prepared for this and the mechanism is working like a Swiss watch. But sadly it does not seem to be the case. How else can it be explained that nearly 300 thousand people were caught last year trying to enter illegally the block?

The Commissioner for migration and home affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, revealed the above worrying figure to the European Parliament last Tuesday noting that “in 2014, more than 276,000 migrants arrived in the EU, representing an increase of 138 percent compared to the previous year”. He continued, “Smugglers are finding new routes to Europe and are employing new methods in order to exploit desperate people who are trying to escape conflict and war”. “Better coordination and a more comprehensive approach will help to address the roots of the current flows of irregular migrants and of smuggling,” he also stated.

What is most interesting here is to see what are those new “methods” that the illegal immigrants are using to make it to the Eden of the West, as the movie director Mr Gavras would describe. At the same time what is equally striking is why Europe in 2015 is not able to have the right “methods” to control and resolve the matter properly.

It was in the news earlier this week that thousands of poor immigrants join and organise through social media, to set off for what is for them a gateway to paradise but in reality it is a dangerous often inhuman smuggling of poor souls into rusty containers of Vessels that drift along the gigantic waves of the Mediterranean sea. So, Twitter and Facebook and Whatsapp are used by the victims of human trafficking and the criminal gangs that allure people that live in miserable conditions to embark on what is sadly for some the last trip of their lives. According to the reportage, the ruthless criminals even have price differentiation for “Economy Class” and “First Class” illegal immigrants that equals to a couple of thousand euros for the former, up to 10.000 euros for the wealthier.

Now, with the number of illegal immigration flow getting more than doubled in 2014, one might think that Europe is losing control. And it seems that is true. When Mr Avramopoulos urges for better co-operation what does he really mean? Obviously the number did not reach 138% since his arrival to the Commission in November, but what are the real gaps and how to cover them? It is always nice to throw some stats to the Parliament as food for thought but what is wrong with Frontex and particularly Triton, border policing organisations that the European citizen is annually paying dozens of millions of euros to?

Let’s not go too far. One big hole in the migrant smuggling to the EU was created in November, when Italy, by far number one “smuggling route”, decided to shut down Europe’s greatest search and rescue programme, Mare Nostrum for budget reasons. The programme that was operating for one year and was costing Italy some 9 million euros per month saved about 100,000 human lives in just one year. Now the EU aims to fill the gap via Frontex and its operation named Triton, which costs one/third of Mare Nostrum programme. Does this sound like a huge EU safety compromise?

Triton’s aim is to help Italy battle migrant smuggling and protect people’s lives in the water, by co-ordinating action in 18 Schengen states. The European Commission states in its Q&A on the issue published earlier this week: “The core objective of the Triton operation is to provide assistance to the Italian authorities’ efforts to ensure effective surveillance of the maritime borders and to provide assistance to any person on board a vessel in distress.” However, the EU itself understands that Triton cannot replace Mare Nostrum’s effectiveness and coverage: “However, this operation cannot and does not replace Mare Nostrum”.

Having Mare Nostrum erased from the map, combined with the new social media diffusion of the smugglers and their victims, it is only reasonable to expect that Mr Avramopoulos will come out in January 2016 to publish even worse stats. Europe should invest more time and money in this direction “yesterday”, to be able to have a “healthy” immigration flow inside.

If not, then besides the human lives lost in the Mediterranean sea we will also suffer from an accentuation of the far-right sirens that cause excruciating pain to all democratic European ears. Europe was never xenophobe. Look at France and so many other examples where people of different origins are integrated and living in harmony, despite all differences and cultural diversity.

The EU should not give the chance to Le Pen and the peer to exploit Europeans’ most shameful deep xenophobe B sides; that belongs only to the deep past.

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