Human trafficking: simply a European problem?

Ursula Smartt

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During the 1980s, a debate opened up about the meaning of the concept of ‘free movement of persons’ enshrined in the Treaty of Rome 1957. Some Member States felt that this should apply to EU citizens only, which would involve keeping internal border checks in order to distinguish between citizens of the EU and non-EU nationals. Others argued in favour of free movement for everyone, which would mean an end to internal border checks altogether. The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 in the village of Schengen, on the borders of Luxembourg, France and Germany. Having decided to implement the intention expressed in that agreement of bringing about the abolition of checks at their common borders on the free movement of persons and facilitating the transport and movement of goods, it could be argued that the Schengen acquis has made it easier for human traffickers to break down internal EU borders in the true spirit of the agreement; after all Schengen’s main purpose was to remove all controls at internal land, sea and airport frontiers. Today there are about 3–4.5 million people living in the EU without any legal papers, with an estimated 400,000 people a year being trafficked into Member States. This means that particularly women and children sans papiers are without legally protected human rights. It is questionable whether international law enforcement agencies, such as Europol, Interpol or the FBI, are truly collaborating in the field of human trafficking, since their different intelligence systems do not really talk to each other yet, exacerbated by Europol’s insistence on eleven language multi-lingualism. Ultimately, trafficking of humans only adds to the funding of global terrorism. Besides being a human rights issue, trafficking in humans is a public health concern due to the widespread infection of HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases; it is a transnational organized crime and socio-economic issue. For this reason it is important that all law enforcement agencies, particularly in Europe, ought to make cooperation in this field its priority. Though a variety of measures have been taken in order to maintain internal security, it is becoming increasingly obvious that organized criminal gangs from largely Eastern Europe, Russia and the Ukraine are well versant in the coordination of visas and illegal passports in order to bypass border controls between Member States. Passengers travelling between the eight Schengen countries are not subjected to stringent passport or identity checks, and when using air travel, leave from domestic rather than international airport terminals (apart from the UK and Ireland). This has resulted in some atrocious human trafficking casualties: in 1998, 90 Romanian illegal immigrants were rescued from a sealed truck in Italy, suffering from asphyxiation. In the same year, dozens of Sri Lankans died after a driver left them locked-up in a container lorry at the Austro-Hungarian border and in 1999, 173 people were reported drowned in the Adriatic Sea, attempting to cross from Albania to Italy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-177
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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