Regardless of whether you feel Europe has a moral responsibility to open its borders to the tens of thousands of refugees and economic migrants who continue to mass on the northern coasts of Africa, or whether you believe allowing them to cross the Mediterranean poses an existential threat to the future of the continent, it is hard to argue against the assertion that the European Union and its partners have totally failed to get to grips with the ongoing migrant crisis. After years of dithering, this looks unlikely to change anytime soon. Despite a crackdown on people smuggling boats imposed by the EU, Italy and the Libyan coastguard earlier this year, migrants are continuing to die as they attempt the treacherous journey across the central Mediterranean route. Meanwhile, traffickers are increasingly turning their attentions further west, smuggling their human cargo up through Morocco and into Spain.
While the central Mediterranean crackdown has coincided with a fall in the number of would-be refugees attempting to cross from Libya to Italy, humanitarian organisations operating in the region have claimed the obstruction of their rescue boats has contributed to a spike in the number of migrant deaths at sea over the past few months. At the beginning of July, the International Organisation for Migration said more than 200 migrants had drowned while attempting to cross from Libya to Italy over a three-day period, and that more than 1,000 had died while making the journey since the beginning of the year. Confusion around Europe’s policy on migration was compounded at the end of June when a humanitarian boat carrying 59 migrants was turned away from Italy and Malta, only to later be allowed to dock in Spain, where students were reported to have been turfed out of their publically-owned accommodation to make way for the vessel’s passengers.
Generous as it was of Spain to take in the refugees and economic migrants who were stranded on the Aquarius rescue vessel, the episode perfectly exemplified Europe’s failure to convey a consistent message to those thinking of making the journey to its shores. Even after striking a deal with Turkey to stop migrants crossing the Med, and repeatedly warning that trafficking boats leaving the coast of Libya would be turned back before reaching Europe, the EU has allowed many thousands of migrants to enter its territory via Greece, Italy and Spain, sending out a message that it is possible for people to fulfil their dreams of a better life. As well as encouraging refugees and economic migrants to risk making the journey to Europe, sending out these mixed messages indicates to people smuggling gangs there is still plenty of money to be made, and that the passengers whose lives they risk in boats launched towards the continent still stand a pretty decent chance of making it across the water once they have been picked up rescue boats.
European policy makers need to wake up to the fact that people smugglers will continue to grow rich from sending migrants to their deaths in the Mediterranean all the while this madness continues. Allowing human traffickers to launch dangerous boats full of migrants from the northern coasts of Africa in the knowledge they will most likely be intercepted by humanitarian groups is continuing to fuel the smuggling trade, and is contributing to the loss of migrant lives. The only sensible way to bring an end to this insanity is the introduction of an Australian-style zero-tolerance policy. Earlier this week, Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton revealed that more than 600 people smugglers had been arrested since the country’s government introduced a crackdown on human trafficking in 2013, and that not one migrant life had been lost at sea since he came into post at the end of 2014.
While hugely unpopular on the left, Operation Sovereign Borders has proved instrumental in significantly cutting the number of migrants arriving in Australia by boat every year, which remained high under previous administrations. The policy involves army boats patrolling Australian waters in a bid to intercept migrant vessels. Once identified, the boats are either towed back to their point of departure, or migrants are placed on dinghies or lifeboats to be returned to their country of origin. As well as discouraging people from attempting to make the journey in the first place, introducing such as policy in the Mediterranean could save lives, and severely curtail the activities of people smuggling gangs who prey on desperate migrants in search of a new life in Europe. At the same time, the EU could boost the processing of asylum applications submitted from overseas, and allocate more funding to initiatives designed to deal with the problems that are encouraging people to leave their homes and travel to Europe in the first place. Critics argue such policies are inhumane, but they must surely be better than the status quo, which continues to see hundreds of migrants dying at sea while people smuggling gangs grow rich off their misery.
Police across Europe arrest scores during child trafficking crackdown
Law enforcement agencies across Europe took part in a coordinated crackdown on child trafficking at the beginning of last month, Europol revealed earlier today.
During the first week of July, police across 22 member states took part in an EMPACT trafficking in human beings campaign that resulted in the identification of 51 children and 72 adults who police suspected could be potential victims of exploitation.
The children, the youngest of which was aged just two, were exploited for the purposes of labour, forced begging, and sexual services, Europe’s law enforcement agency said.
The operation also resulted in the discovery of criminals with links to migrant smuggling and the fake document trade, triggering the investigation of 45 new cases.
In total, the crackdown resulted in the detention of 24 suspects who were questioned over their alleged links to the human trafficking trade, and a further 61 suspects who were detained in relation to other crimes.
“The actions focused mainly on hotspots for sexual exploitation, forced begging and forced criminality (e.g. pickpocketing and minor thefts), and intensified activities at border crossing points,” Europol said in a statement.
“As the identification of victims of trafficking in human beings remains very challenging, particularly the identification of child victims, many participating countries also undertook prevention and awareness raising activities.”
News of the success of the operation comes after UK officials last week warned that people smugglers and human traffickers are using Facebook to attract potential victims.
Speaking with the Evening Standard last week, National Crime Agency (NCA) Deputy Director Tom Dowdall said migrant deaths in the Mediterranean remain high and that victims were too often being recruited via the social network.
The NCA said it had found more than 800 Facebook pages that were linked to organised crime gangs involved in the trafficking of migrants into and across Europe.
In comments made separately to the Reuters news agency, Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce boss Chris Hogben warned that Facebook is failing to prevent people smugglers from luring victims through its platforms.
“More often than not, these adverts are quite reassuring, they create an illusion this is very much normal travel, it’s safe, it’s easy,” he said.
“Tragically, when you look at quite a few of these adverts they might be advertising big luxury yachts or ships. When the migrants turn up to get transported they find they are being packed onto a rib or a small boat without safety jackets.”
Venezuela to cut massive fuel subsidises to fight rampant gasoline smuggling
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has said the country’s subsidised fuel prices should rise to international levels in a bid to prevent smugglers cheating the country out of billions of dollars.
Speaking during a televised address yesterday, Maduro said petrol must now be sold at an internationally-competitive price to stop smuggling gangs trafficking fuel out of the country to Colombia and the Caribbean.
As is the case with many oil-producing nations, Venezuela has offered its citizens heavily-subsidised petrol for decades, but its fuel prices have remained nearly flat for years despite hyperinflation.
This means the country’s drivers can now fill up the tank of a small SUV nearly 9,000 times over for the price of a cup of coffee.
Put another way, filling up a tank of fuel in Venezuela currently costs the equivalent of less than one US cent.
This offers smugglers massive profits in exchange for smuggling fuel out of Venezuela to be sold at market value in neighbouring countries, so much so that the trade in illicit fuel has become more lucrative than drug smuggling.
It is estimated the country’s crumbling economy loses as much as $18 billion a year to fuel smuggling, forcing the government to act as the nation’s production of oil, which is its largest export, continues to fall.
While Maduro has pledged that the Venezuelan government will continue to offer “direct subsidies” to citizens holding a state-issued identification card, many Venezuelans have refused to get the ID cards, alleging they are used by officials to keep tabs on them.
Maduro said: “Anyone who does not respond to the call for this census, who does not wish to participate in the direct subsidy, will have to pay for gasoline at the international rate.”
Responding to Maduro’s announcement on Twitter, Chief Economic Adviser to Allianz Mohamed El-Erian commented: “It will be interesting to see how the population in #Venezuela responds to today’s announcement by President #Maduro eliminating subsidies on #fuel. If implemented fully, this would entail a significant rise in prices … from the lowest in the world to international levels.”
Other observers suggested hiking fuel prices in Venezuela might risk pushing even higher the country’s sky-high inflation rate, which the International Monetary Fund predicts could reach one million percent.
“The collapse in economic activity, hyperinflation, and increasing deterioration in the provision of public goods as well as shortages of food at subsidized prices have resulted in large migration flows, which will lead to intensifying spill over effects on neighbouring countries,” Alejandro Werner, head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department, wrote in a blog post.
Police in New York break up $70 million fake Nike Air Jordans trafficking conspiracy
Five New York residents have been arrested after police disrupted a plot to traffic counterfeit Nike Air Jordan trainers estimated to be worth more than $70 million.
Officers from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit detained Miyuki Suen, Jian Min Huang, Songhua Qu, Kin Lui Chen and Fangrang Qu, before charging them with illegally importing the thousands of pairs of fake sports shoes from China into the US.
After the shoes arrived in the country, the suspects and their co-conspirators are said to have stuck bogus Nike-trademarked logos on them, before offering them for sale across the US.
Prior to charging the suspects, investigators examined nearly 27,000 pairs of trainers over an eight-month period.
Each member of the gang could face up to 20 years in jail if they are found guilty of counterfeit trafficking conspiracy and trafficking in counterfeit goods.
If the trainers had been genuine, they would have been worth $73 million if sold at retail value, according to the NYPD and HSI.
The bogus trainers are said to have looked nearly identical to the genuine article, but did not feature the genuine Nike Air Jordan trademarked logos.
In a statement, Angel Melendez, Special Agent in Charge for HSI New York. “These five individuals are alleged to have been a part of a large scale counterfeiting scheme, importing nearly a half million pairs of knock-off Nike sneakers.
“These counterfeiting networks can be both detrimental to our economy and threaten our national security, and HSI will continue to take every measure in investigating and dismantling these organisations.”
Manhattan Attorney Geoffrey Berman added: “The five defendants in this case allegedly counterfeited over $70 million in fake Nike shoes and sold them to buyers on the U.S. market.
“I commend our law enforcement partners for helping to bring today’s charges, which send a clear message to would-be counterfeiters: ‘Just don’t do it.’”
Nike Air Jordan trainers, which are named after retired basketball player Michael Jordan and typically sell for close to $200, have been widely counterfeited since they were introduced in the 1980s.
Back in January, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discovered hundreds of pairs of Nike Air Jordan trainers in a shipment passing through Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
The 400 pairs of various versions of the trainers arrived at the airport on 15 December from China, and would have been worth nearly $55,000 if sold at the manufacturer’s recommended retail price.
- Britain’s Monkey Dust ‘epidemic’ will likely continue until the UK changes its regressive drugs laws
- Police across Europe arrest scores during child trafficking crackdown
- Venezuela to cut massive fuel subsidises to fight rampant gasoline smuggling
- Police in New York break up $70 million fake Nike Air Jordans trafficking conspiracy
- Spanish authorities arrest people smugglers who trafficked migrants into France
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
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