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EU efforts to fight migrant smuggling must be balanced with a humanitarian response, say Lords


Migrant smuggling is a serious criminal activity. In response to unprecedented numbers of migrants being smuggled into the EU, the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee is calling on the European Commission to ensure that the protection of vulnerable migrants is given equal priority to law enforcement.

The Committee generally welcomes the EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling, and supports law enforcement efforts to arrest migrant smugglers and disrupt their operations. However, it believes that the Action Plan must put an equal focus on how best to protect the rights and safety of the individuals who are being smuggled because this is a humanitarian crisis.

Over 4,000 people have died in 2015 so far, trying to reach safety in Europe. Around 800 migrants died in one single boat incident alone. In another incident, the lives of 71 more smuggled migrants were lost in the back of a refrigerated lorry in Austria. The evidence the Committee heard indicates that the majority of those attempting to enter the EU irregularly come from countries that are riven by conflict, political instability and oppression, and so are ‘prima facie refugees' as defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Commission has rightly sought to place the Action Plan within the context of a broader approach to migration. It is necessary to tackle the root causes of irregular migration, and one effective way of doing this would be for Member States to create more safe and legal routes for refugees to enter the EU.

The aim of the Committee's report, published today, is to inform the Commission's review of EU legislation on migrant smuggling, due to be published in 2016 along with proposed reforms.

Chairman of the Committee, Baroness Prashar, said:

"Migrant smuggling is a complex and little understood phenomenon. It can involve organised criminal gangs at one end of the spectrum, and local groups, including groups of migrants themselves, who may have humanitarian motives, at the other.

"Those who are smuggled are usually vulnerable people. While the Action Plan's law enforcement aims are fundamental, we believe that the humanitarian needs of the desperate people, who are being exploited by migrant smugglers, are as important as the current emphasis on law enforcement."

Key recommendations from the Committee include:

  • When the Commission reviews the European legislation, it should aim to bring it into line with the UN Protocol that concerns migrant smuggling. It should only criminalise acts committed for financial gain and not for humanitarian purposes. It should also add inhuman and degrading treatment as aggravating factors in the sentencing of convicted smugglers.
  • It is important that EU Agencies, which are tasked with implementing the Action Plan, are properly resourced, they collaborate and coordinate their work, and that they are monitored and held accountable.

An embargoed YouTube video setting out the Committee's key recommendations is available. This can be viewed on the link above and can be embedded in third party websites for the date of publication. Permission is not needed for reuse.

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