Commission Proposes New Legislation to Counter Migrant Smuggling
18 January 2024
Pingen Kopie Dr. Anna Pingen

At the end of November 2023, the Commission proposed new legislation to prevent and combat migrant smuggling in response to President von der Leyen's 2023 State of the Union address. In her address, von der Leyen called for the strengthening of all tools at the EU's disposal to effectively combat migrant smuggling. These tools mainly concern an update of the 20-year-old legislative framework (the 2002 facilitation package), strengthening the role of EU agencies (in particular Europol), and intensifying cooperation with partner countries to tackle the issue globally. The package consists of the following:

  • A Directive on preventing and countering the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and stay in the EU;
  • A Regulation to reinforce Europol’s role in the fight against migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings;
  • A Call to Action for a Global Alliance to Counter Migrant Smuggling.

The proposed Directive aims to strengthen the EU legislative framework on migrant smuggling with five main goals:

  • Combat criminal networks: Clearer definitions to target activities for financial gain or causing harm, including criminalizing public instigation on digital platforms;
  • Harmonise penalties: Increase in penalties for aggravated offenses, like causing deaths, to a minimum of 15 years;
  • Extend jurisdiction: Expansion of Member States' jurisdiction to incidents in international waters, offences committed on board of ships or aircraft registered in the Member States, and offences committed by legal persons doing business in the EU;
  • Reinforce resourcing: Adequate funding of authorities by Member States to combat smuggling and promote prevention through awareness programmes;
  • Improve data collection: Mandatory annual reporting by Member States to enhance the detection of and response to migrant smuggling.

The proposed Regulation aims to reinforce Europol's role and inter-agency cooperation in the fight against migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings. Building on the success of the current Europol Centre Against Migrant Smuggling, a new European Centre will strengthen EU-level coordination, improve information sharing, and increase resources. Liaison officers from the Member States, Eurojust and Frontex will support the Centre. The Centre will monitor trends, generate reports, and conduct investigations. Member States will be required to designate specialised services, connect them to a secure information network, and exchange information with Europol. The Regulation introduces the concepts of task forces and Europol actions in support of operations, backed by a reserve pool of national experts.

The third element of the anti-smuggling package, the Call to Action for a Global Alliance, aims to protect migrants from smuggling by dismantling transnational criminal networks through coordinated law enforcement and judicial action. It emphasises prevention, response and alternatives to irregular migration, addressing root causes, and facilitating legal pathways. The Commission will lead this effort, working with global stakeholders through technical expert groups involving EU institutions, agencies, Member States, partner countries, and international organisations.

The Commission's proposals for the legislation will next be negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council. The Global Alliance to Counter Migrant Smuggling will be promoted at bilateral and multilateral levels and through the work of the UNODC. At the political level, the initiative will be assessed at a conference in Copenhagen in spring 2024.

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