Tougher line needed on smuggling: expert

Petra Kaminsky – DPA

7 minute read

WASHINGTON: Demetrios G. Papademetriou from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) believes Europe's migration policies are too weak and are only aiding the objectives of people smugglers.

He says that if governments want to dismantle the industry they must make it clear they won't allow human cargo into their countries. 

"Since the smugglers provide a service and often have to complete it - bring people really from point A to point B - you have to make clear, that the endpoint B no longer works," he said In an interview with the German Press Agency dpa.

Papademetriou is a Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of the MPI, a Washington-based think tank.

He believes the equation is simple - if you want to have free movement within your territory, you need strong borders.

He acknowledges that European nations will never be able to completely stem the flow of desperate people. But to limit the reach of the smuggling networks and to prevent migrants asking for their services, a much tougher line needs to be taken.

"(Governments) have to literally cut off the act of being rescued from the act of making it into Europe. Or you have to make relatively quick and hard decisions at the point of entry," he says.

But Pademetriou knows that strengthening border controls is a double-edged sword, because it means more migrants will need the help of criminals. 

He says governments should be using a broad mix of political approaches that make it clear that only people eligible for asylum under the United Nations Refugee Convention can come in. 

"Everybody else goes back. The US and Europe have so many tools in their toolbox, that have not been used yet," he says.

Australia's policies, he adds, could provide a model for keeping illegal migrants out of Europe. 

"You search, you rescue. And then you take people to a place that is not Europe. And you create processing areas," he says.

Here is the full interview:

Q: Is migrant smuggling growing worldwide?

Papademetriou: Migrant smuggling is growing. The reason for this is that more and more countries are trying to defend themselves against illegal immigration. Because borders are getting stronger. Because more resources have been invested by targeted destination countries. And because all these obstacles are created, more and more people are relying on facilitators.

Q: What do you know about the criminal networks behind it?

Papademetriou: It is often called criminal networks. But I use also the word facilitators, because not

everyone who moves another person from one point to another is part of a criminal network. You

can look at some smaller operators as providing a service. They use the market mechanism of the issue. They are providing a service for a fee to an increasing number of people. And the fees have been growing, which attracts more people to try to work as facilitators.

Q: Is the fight against migrant smugglers and networks the best way to combat this development. Or should states do something else?

Papademetriou: The answer falls on both sides of the question. States, whether it is Germany, the Netherlands or the peripheral countries of the European Union - sovereign nations or the EU as a whole - have no choice but build up their external borders. The argument is simple. If you want to have free movement within your territory, you have to have harder borders. You will never stop the influx totally, but to try to stop the reach of these networks and to stop people asking for their service, you have to do harder things than what most Europeans do today. The ultimate purpose of borders is deterrence. It is the same logic in the US, in Australia, in Canada. We now have a problem with people crossing over from the United States to Canada. In the EU some of these things are happening now. Call them sort of evolution of the Australian set of policies, (which is) first search, then rescue. Europe today is doing a third step that the Australians do not do: Complete the business objective and job of the smugglers and the migrants by bringing the people to Europe.

Q: What should they do instead?

Papademetriou: They have to literally cut off the act of being rescued from the act of making it into Europe. Or you have to make relatively quick and hard decisions at the point of entry. I do not mean in a day or two. But a hard decision of who can stay and who not. And push people back to where they embarked. For example to Libya. Once these boats reach international waters, it is illegal to push them back.

Q: What else is possible?

Papademetriou: The Australian way. You search, you rescue. And then you take people to a place that is not Europe. And you create processing areas. That is expensive, that is difficult and the humanitarian organisations and parts of the UN would raise serious questions about the legality of this approach.

Q: But some people say that won't work for long because more and more people want to come. At the end of the day, you can't stop them.

Papademetriou: You can stop them. But you have to do harder and harder things. I am not referring to shooting people or building walls. I am referring to a full panoply of responses that make clear that only people who will receive asylum under the (United Nations Refugee Convention) can come in. Everybody else goes back. The US and Europe have so many tools in their toolbox, that have not been used yet. For example, there is still a lot of money and assistance going to countries who refuse to take their people back. And a second one: invest early in a crisis before a crisis becomes too chaotic. Third: invest deeply in countries where the people come from, so that they see good opportunities for children to be educated and (for) families to create opportunities for themselves.

Q: And what about fighting the smugglers?

Papademetriou: It is one of the tools. But ... you have to be almost as smart as the smugglers are. For example, since the smugglers provide a service and often have to complete it, bring people really from point A to point B, you have to make clear that the endpoint B no longer works. That has to happen over years, it would not work quickly. Today people hear and read on their mobiles that one route, let's say via Libya, is closed. Then the next wave takes another way, that might be over Egypt. And when Egypt is closed, they must try opportunities and conditions to go back to their countries and try to make something of themselves there. And smugglers will try to use more extreme measures. That will mean more people will die. You have to work closely with all countries on migrants' (routes), so that you have a greater enforcement. And here we make a great mistake -we often think that if we catch some smugglers in the act and put them in jail and take their money we have really done something. Let me assure you, unless we do that 1000 times every week we  ... have accomplished nothing. It takes an awful lot of patience and policework to be able to penetrate these networks, understand better how they operate,  find out how they get their money and deny them the fruits of their labuor. That means currency control. You have to follow the money.  (You also) have to stop bribery. 

*Demetrios G. Papademetriou is Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington-based think tank dedicated to the study of international migration. He is also President of the Migration Policy Institute Europe, a nonprofit research institute in Brussels that aims to promote a better understanding of migration trends and effects within Europe.



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