[Stop-traffic] News/Europe: People trafficking: Europe's new problem

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Europe: People trafficking: Europe's new problem
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Fri Sep 22 2000 - 09:26:51 EDT

People trafficking: Europe's new problem
By Zoran Kusovac
Jane's Intelligence Review, September 1, 2000

Human smuggling is the fastest growing criminal business in the world,
according to under-secretary-general Pino Arlacchi, the head of the UN
Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. Although images of ships
barely able to stay afloat and laden with illegal immigrants are focusing
world attention on the question of shipborne illegal immigration, it is
just the tip of the iceberg.

Most clandestine entries into the European Union (EU) are made over land.
Public awareness of the problem was dramatically raised on 22 June this
year by the discovery of a truck in the UK port of Dover which, apart from
its officially declared cargo of tomatoes, carried 60 illegal Chinese
immigrants - all but two of whom had suffocated to death. While this was a
wake-up call for the UK, it is a daily occurrence for the eastern-most
members of the EU - Germany, Austria and Italy, and the only member state
that is not within the contiguous EU area - Greece.

The immigrants

The bulk of illegal immigrants who make it into the EU without work permits
are either from Eastern Europe or Asia. There are two distinct groups
within the Eastern Europeans. The first is made up of citizens from the
former Soviet republics, mostly Ukraine, with Russia trailing far behind.
According to some reports, up to 200,000 people in the Kyiv region alone
are waiting to cross.

Other immigrants from Eastern Europe include Albanians, who almost
exclusively travel to southern Italy by boat, and the 'overland nations':
Romanians, Moldovans and Roma (Gypsies). The number of immigrants from the
war-torn countries of former Yugoslavia is almost insignificant - most of
those nations have large expatriate communities living as legal residents,
or even citizens, of various EU countries, which allows them to support the
visa applications of their friends and family. Bosnians and Kosovars who
entered the EU as refugees are now returning home as domestic conditions
improve. Other eastern European countries (Poland, the Czech Republic,
Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia) enjoy liberal visa-free travel to the EU,
eliminating the need for illegal entry.

Statistics indicate that Turks form the greatest number of illegal
immigrants among the Asian groups. However, the Chinese are catching up
fast, with Iranians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Iraqis making up the
rest. The situation is complicated by the fact that a large proportion of
the illegal immigrants officially declared as 'Turks' on the basis of their
citizenship are actually Kurds whose status is often blurred between
immigrants, and economic and political refugees.

The main obstacle in examining illegal immigration is that the exact size
of the problem is unknown and can only be estimated from the numbers who
fail to reach their final destination. The EU admits that it is in need of
manpower to fill a range of jobs - mostly unskilled. The domestic EU
population, which is getting more affluent while growing statistically
older, will be unable to provide the necessary manpower to maintain the
levels achieved. Official estimates indicate that up to 35 million
'extracommunitarians' will have to be admitted into the EU by 2025.
However, evidence suggests that there is a high degree of official
hypocrisy: most illegal immigrants quickly find jobs, even if their
immigration and labour status remains unresolved. Even those countries
where anti-immigrant rhetoric is strong officially admit that they need them.

The organisation

Organising illegal immigration is an attractive prospect for many who have
access to appropriate transport and the proper paperwork needed to cross
the borders, or who happen to live in a border area. It is often far more
attractive than traditional high-yield criminal activities like drugs or
weapons smuggling as it does not require special technology nor a
distribution network.

In a number of transit countries, organising illegal immigration
constitutes a minor infraction rather than a criminal offence. Payment is
made up-front and there is no obligation to the clients in case of failure.
There is also a high degree of determination on the part of the illegal
immigrants, who will often try repeatedly until they succeed. One police
officer combating illegal immigration described the trade: "Your wares come
to you without any need to search or advertise, they stick to a code of
silence and if you get caught the evidence against you tries to run away."

Police experience from several countries indicates some consistent
patterns: people smugglers tend to steer clear from other illegal
activities. They do not normally smuggle drugs or arms. Where possible they
will use alternatives to established routes to increase their chances of

But several aspects of illegal immigration are beginning to worry the
experts. Unlike many other criminal activities it is accessible to
amateurs. Border guards in several countries consider that their success
rate is lowest where 'occasional smugglers', who do not have a pattern or
an identifying modus operandi, are involved.

People smuggling usually starts as an 'opportunity crime' - a truck driver
on an attractive route will succumb to a smuggling request and, if
successful, will try again until reaching a point where smuggling people
becomes more attractive than his main job. Likewise, on many borders local
villagers quickly discover that they can make money by leading groups on
foot across the border in remote areas that they know well or by arranging
a quick boat ride across a river.

The relatively uncomplicated organisation attracts local petty criminals
and more serious organised criminals who tend to put the 'occasional
offenders' under their control. In many cases governments, or at least the
more overtly corrupt officials, get involved and networks are quickly
established. The only exception from the rule that illegal immigration
tends not to go hand-in-hand with other criminal activities is
prostitution. The similar organisational requirements for smuggling
newly-recruited prostitutes, mainly from Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and
Ukraine, means that it shares the same pattern as the smuggling of economic

The routes

Most illegal immigrants into the EU have, and use, a passport. They tend to
approach intermediaries in the last country that they can reach without a
visa. Information on channels is usually by word-of- mouth. Those who make
it into the EU pass on the details and contacts once they are safe.

Although it shares a long border with Germany, Poland does not have a
significant problem with illegal immigration. This seems to be due to the
country's relatively strict entry controls, combined with even stricter
controls on the German border and the configuration of the border itself.

Poland's southern neighbours, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are less
fortunate: the former wedges deep into Germany, with wooded hills on both
sides providing ideal cover for clandestine crossing; the latter's eastern
and southern borders with Ukraine, Romania and Hungary make it a good
transit country. A short stretch of border with Austria affords Slovakia
direct access to the EU, although the border itself is not easily
accessible. However, the high volume of traffic bound for Vienna makes the
use of trucks possible. One advantage for the people smugglers is the
weakly-controlled border between the two parts of the former
Czechoslovakia. While it has recently been reinforced from the Czech side
by the posting of 380 officers, that number can hardly do much to stem the

Hungary is perfect transit country. On one side Romanians enter freely, and
the border is long and easy to cross, like those with the Federal Republic
of Yugoslavia (FRY), Croatia and Slovenia further to the south, and the
western border with Austria. Since the wars in the former Yugoslavia and
the trade embargo have diverted most of Western Europe-bound truck flow to
routes through Hungary, the volume of cargo traffic allows for large
numbers of illegal crossings. Of the 41,502 illegal immigrants caught
trying to enter Austria in 1999, over 80% came either directly from or
through Hungary. Apart from East Europeans, Asians are increasingly using
this route.

In early August, 46 people were discovered in a state of near- asphyxiation
during a routine Hungarian border check of a 15-person capacity van. They
included nationals of Afghanistan, Somalia, India and Nepal. A particular
problem for the Hungarians are the Chinese. Budapest boasts a near
100,000-strong, well-established Chinese community. Hungarian Border Police
suspect that passports of legal residents are taken back to China and used
to bring others into the country. Once they legally enter Hungary, they
continue westwards illegally.

Romania perfects the role of an originating and a gathering country. With a
common border with Moldova and Ukraine, it is accessible and visa
requirements are lax. The final resort is illegal crossing. Romanians
themselves go directly to Hungary or the FRY, benefiting from the presence
of national minorities on both sides of the mutual borders which means that
both countries are unlikely to impose visas.

Sofia has seemingly been least affected by the sudden growth of this
illegal activity. Bulgaria has always been an important link on the
Bosphorus-Western Europe drugs route. Police and customs officials
therefore check vehicles meticulously, and their task is made easier by the
very small number of major road crossings - one with Turkey, two with
Greece, Romania and Macedonia, and only three with Serbia.

In the case of Bulgaria, Germany is trying to fight illegal immigration
away from its own borders and as close to the originating countries by
donating over US$1 million worth of equipment - 60 sets of night-vision
binoculars and a few four-wheel drive vehicles. More has been pledged. Gas
analysers, which can detect an excess of carbon dioxide inside a vehicle as
a product of human exhalation, have proved useful and have led to several
discoveries. Bulgarian National Border Police Service (NSGP) officials
admit that they are lucky that the border with Greece is quite rugged and
inaccessible. However, despite the fact that local populations on either
side of the border are reluctant to engage in illegal activities, the
number of incidents is increasing.

Since the end of the wars, the countries of the former Yugoslavia have
experienced a sudden and dramatic increase of illegal immigration transit.
The usual reasons are poor economies and regional disparities, but also
political divisions, lack of co- operation between neighbouring states and
the existence of well- established criminal connections created during the
wars to trade on the black markets.

Landlocked Macedonia is politically focused on sealing its northern and
western borders with Kosovo and Albania. This leaves its eastern border
with Bulgaria and its southern one with Greece with almost no cover, while
the northern border with Serbia has always been porous. Thus there is heavy
pressure on the routes leading from Serbia and Bulgaria into Greece through
Macedonia. Some 616 illegal crossings were discovered in the first six
months of this year. Passage into Greece is usually made on foot through
the Vardar plain. Greek authorities find it hard to seal off the whole
northern border: they have prioritised the Western one with Albania where
most imported crime originates.

Bordering seven countries (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia,
Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia) and indirectly, through
UN-mandated Kosovo with Albania, Serbia would have a tough job if it
decided to seriously tackle the problem of people smuggling. However, there
seems to be a conscious decision by Belgrade to allow illegal immigrants to
pass through the country because of the financial benefits for the deprived
Serbian population.

There may also be a more important reason for Serbia's attitude. Ostracised
by the international community, Serbia is eager to prove that it is an
important regional actor and that no problem can be solved in the long term
without its participation. It thus chooses not to patrol its borders
rigorously - except those with Kosovo for security considerations, and
Montenegro for internal political reasons, and also to enforce the
undeclared economic embargo. For its part Serbia does not treat its border
with Bosnia as a 'real' border, but more of an imposed 'boundary' line with
the Bosnian Serbs. This fact makes the Drina river the most porous of all
the borders in the region, with local fishermen willing to ferry across
anyone willing to pay US$100 per head.

Far more serious is Serbia's role in the illegal immigration of Chinese
expatriates. Although the Serbian opposition has made exaggerated claims of
up to 60,000 Chinese residents in Belgrade, in reality the number seems to
be just over 15,000. For the Chinese, Serbia is an intermediate point
before arriving - illegally - in the West. The best established routes into
Europe are through Hungary into Austria and the alternative through Bosnia,
Croatia and Slovenia. In June Hungarian Interior Minister Sandor Pinter
claimed that his border guards "in the previous months caught an average
100-150 Chinese trying to enter illegally from Serbia". With the success
rate usually estimated at 15-20%, this would indicate that some 500 Chinese
try to cross every day from Serbia alone.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is another entry point for aerial entry of potential
illegal immigrants. During the war, when the central government in Sarajevo
was effectively under the control of Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic,
Bosnia abolished visas for several countries, including Iran, Turkey and
Malaysia. The regulation is still in force. Iranians and Kurds from Turkey
use the opportunity to fly into Sarajevo legally from Istanbul, and then
try to get into the EU. The route is already so well established that
contacts can be made either in Istanbul or at the airport, or in many other
locations in the country.

The country is divided into two 'entities', each with their own police
forces. The UN-imposed State Border Service is still only in the process of
formation, having taken over the first four crossings in early August. All
the borders of Bosnia used to be internal Yugoslav borders, so they are not
demarcated, and the people are used to free movement. According to Deputy
High Representative for Bosnia Jacques Klein there are 400 road crossings -
and only a small portion of these are official. Klein has challenged the
official figures that 1,000 illegal immigrants were caught in the first
half of this year, believing the figure to be three times higher. The
'aerial' immigrants are joined by those who cross the Drina river from
Serbia to reach Croatia and then move further west. The task is easy. The
Sava river on the northern border is easily crossed by boat and the western
borders are scarcely populated and poorly patrolled as a result of the
fighting between 1992-95.

Despite its declared willingness to combat illegal crossings, Croatia faces
a difficult task, with its elongated shape and over 1,500km of land border.
The police are needed in the former Krajina area to thwart ethnic tension
between Serbs and Croats and cannot check each potential crossing point. In
some areas, like in Koprivnica in the northern plains shared with Hungary,
the forces of the Interior Ministry (ministarstvo unutarnjih poslova - MUP)
instituted a horse-mounted unit to patrol the depth of the territory.
However, the MUP records an unprecedented rise in illegal crossings - 1,474
cases involving 5,052 persons in the first six months of 2000 - almost
equal to the whole of 1999. The eastern, Danube, border with Serbia is also
showing a rise in cases.

The Croatian police are far from perfect. A police officer was caught in
August smuggling 21 Turks and six Iranians in a trailer. The only section
of the border not being used for illegal crossings is the long Adriatic
coast. Speedboat runs across the Adriatic would present a problem for the
Italian authorities who are already stretched.

The ultimate hurdle before the EU on the southern Balkans route is
Slovenia. Its long border with Croatia includes sparsely populated
woodlands in the southeast, easily accessible hills in the northeast and
tourist areas in the south. The border with Hungary is relatively short and
controllable while the almost-impassable Alps on Italian and Austrian
borders allow limited crossing opportunities along mountain passes. This
forces most immigrants to the plains above the Italian coastal city of

Slovenian statistics indicate that figures from Bosnia and Croatia are
misleading - the Interior Ministry (ministrstvo za notranje zadeve - MNZ)
records 18,695 illegal crossings in 1999 and 11,876 in the first six months
of 2000. As the MNZ clearly detects the growing contribution of the
Belgrade and Sarajevo aerial routes, it is obvious that most of those would
have to come through Bosnia and Croatia. Assuming that only up to 20% are
caught, this would put the figure near 100,000 per year. This figure is
likely to increase further from September, when Slovenia starts applying
Schengen rules on its eastern borders in preparation for EU membership -
tougher entry requirements will force more would-be EU workers to cross

Albania, with an outlet to the Adriatic, continues to present a serious
problem. Most immigrants from the country are Albanian naturals, but the
percentage of foreigners who reach Albania overland is growing. They cross
almost exclusively by boats to Italy, where public patience is running thin
following the deaths of two Finance Guard officers when their boat was
rammed by smugglers. Boat-runners often throw their human cargo overboard
to avoid capture. In 1999, 170 illegal immigrants drowned at sea.

The only country that is not currently a main channel for illegal
immigration, Montenegro, also presents a potential problem. It stands on a
possible land route between Albania, Bosnia and Croatia, which is currently
unused due to a general atmosphere of tenson and heavy presence of the
Yugoslav Army (Vojska Jugoslavije - VJ). However, the second potential
problem is that Montenegro unilaterally abolished visas for all foreigners
in February 1999. The national carrier, Montenegro Airlines, does not fly
to any originating countries, but the possibility of Podgorica becoming
another aerial entry point following its possible separation from Belgrade

The real economic magnitude of fees charged to facilitate illegal
immigration is often underestimated. Based just on the figures of illegal
immigrants caught entering Austria, over 40,000 in 1999, using a rough
estimate of the passage costing $2,500 per head (figures reported vary from
$1,000 for a passage from Romania to $15,000 for the one from Iran) the
figure is a staggering $100 million, just for the recorded cases for one
year for one country alone.

If the number of illegal immigrants were equal to the number of asylum
requests into the EU (365,000 in 1999, of which 70,000 in UK alone), that
alone would give a sum of over $900 million that changed hands in one year
alone. Evidence suggests that the actual ratio is no less than 3:1. Thus
the end sum is in the region of $3 billion per year. Without taking into
account the directly associated costs (immigrant centres, repatriation
costs, asylum seeker costs) this clearly makes this activity - which in
some countries is not even classified as a crime - a serious problem for
Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

Please contact me off-list for any questions about Stop-Traffic at

Women's Reproductive Health Initiative
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Stop-traffic is facilitated, international electronic list
funded by the Women's Reproductive Health Initiative
of the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH)
dealing with human rights abuses associated with trafficking
in persons, with an emphasis on public health and trafficking
in persons for forced labor, including forced prostitution,
sweatshop labor, domestic service and some coercive mail
order bride arrangements.
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