The current refugee crisis is the greatest humanitarian problem to have faced the European Union since its foundation. In response, the European Commission adopted a wide-ranging European Agenda on Migration on 13 May 2015. As part of this Agenda the Commission brought forward an EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling. The Action Plan sets out four priorities: enhanced police and judicial response; improved gathering and sharing of information; enhanced prevention of smuggling and assistance to vulnerable migrants; and, stronger cooperation with third countries. The aim of this inquiry was to look at the efficacy of the Action Plan ahead of the European Commission’s own review of the legislation on migrant smuggling, which will be published in 2016 along with proposed reforms. Migrant smuggling is a serious criminal activity, but the Commission has rightly sought to place the Action Plan within the context of a broader approach to migration. The nature of migrant smuggling needs to be properly understood in order to develop an adequate and appropriate response. Evidence suggests that a majority of those currently entering the EU as irregular migrants are ‘prima facie refugees’, as defined by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It is, therefore, important that as much focus is placed on the humanitarian aspects of the crisis as on law enforcement. At the same time, we support the high priority that is being given to guarding against migrant smuggling for the purpose of committing terrorist acts. 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. The Action Plan needs to recognise this complexity. We recommend that, as part of its review of EU legislation, the Commission should propose an EU framework that builds on the humanitarian aspects of the UN Protocol that concerns migrant smuggling. It should criminalise only acts committed for financial gain. Clauses should be added to avoid the criminalisation of individuals and organisations acting for humanitarian purposes. Inhuman and degrading treatment should be included as aggravating factors in the sentencing of smugglers. The Action Plan sets out the correct priorities, but in developing its strategy the Commission must ensure that, in practice, the protection of vulnerable migrants is given equal priority to law enforcement. One effective way of addressing the root causes of irregular migration, and of reducing the need for large numbers of refugees to turn to smugglers, would be to create safe and legal routes for refugees to enter the EU. Greater priority needs to be given to this. We welcome the Commission’s attempt to bring together policies on migration, security and external affairs, and its emphasis on greater cooperation with third countries, as long as this can be achieved while respecting human rights. Priorities set out in the Action Plan will expand the responsibilities of EU Agencies such as Europol, Frontex and Eurojust, thereby challenging their mandates, resources and current methods of working. The same expansion will raise questions over the accountability and transparency of these Agencies. It is important that the Agencies be properly resourced, that they collaborate and coordinate their work, and that they are monitored and held accountable. The Commission should continue its efforts to coordinate the collection of intelligence by Member State authorities and EU Agencies. A single Agency,
ideally Europol, should be responsible for collating and sharing intelligence. Data and intelligence collected by all Agencies should inform the development of policy at EU level.
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