THE BLOG

Dominoes Around Europe: A New Kind of Immigration Crisis

26/08/2015 11:18 BST | Updated 25/08/2016 10:59 BST

This has been the summer of chaos around Europe. From Lampedusa to Calais, from Macedonia to Kent, we are witnessing a migration crisis on an entirely different scale to those of the past.

Urgent and effective action, therefore, is vital. Not just dealing with the vast numbers who are coming and in many cases risking their lives to come, but also dealing with the root causes of this mass migration. We can welcome Theresa May's visit to Calais last Thursday, for the first time since the crisis began, to sign an agreement with her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve on a range of new measures at the port town.

However, whilst these may be effective in addressing the situation in Calais, whatever we do there is, almost by definition, not part of a 'solution' to the wider problem. Calais is one end of a long chain which requires a European-wide, coherent response.

The Domino Principle

What we are now learning is that closing down one route only moves the problem another port. There is already evidence of more illegal activity across northern Europe, around Dunkirk, Zeebrugge and the Hook of Holland.

During her speech on Thursday the Home Secretary said she was "well aware of the possibility of displacement" of the illegal migration crisis from Calais to other ports. This is not merely a possibility, it is a certainty, and it is already happening.

Reviewing security at one or two other ports, such as Dunkirk, is simply insufficient. Traffickers are seemingly providing a shopping list of routes into the UK for those migrants making the journey. These groups have the intelligence and contacts to create a sophisticated, targeted and effective service via any route they desire.

As a bare minimum, European Governments must go upstream and assess the security situation in other ports which will inevitably will be targeted more frequently by traffickers, particularly when advice for alternative routes to reach the UK to avoid Calais are offered on the Gov.uk website.

One of the ports which has seen a notable increase in migrants attempting to illegally enter the UK is the Hook of Holland in the Netherlands. A longer seven hour crossing is not deterring these attempts to cross the channel.

When I visited the port at the Hook of Holland on Thursday 20 August, I was informed by military police that from January until July this year, there has been a 100% increase on the number of illegal crossing attempts compared to last year. Only 15 % of vehicles are checked. The Dutch authorities have subsequently doubled security at this widely used hub.

Bringing in Europol

Whilst Italy and Greece continue to struggle under the strain of huge numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, and the UK and France apply sticking plasters to local manifestations of this problem, the EU is not providing the necessary resources and support to the organisation best suited to co-ordinate the management of this problem: Europol.

Europol, the EU-wide law enforcement organisation, is the only authority with the cross border intelligence, infrastructure and experience to coordinate a sufficient response to these ruthless and highly efficient traffickers. It is also one of the few EU organisations headed by a Brit, the highly regarded Rob Wainwright.

Europol is able to identify trends in where and how migrants are reaching these hubs and respond appropriately. It is not enough for national authorities to slowly provide incremental increases in border security, or see migration flows as a problem for their neighbours. For example, after seeing the increased numbers of migrants travelling to the Hook of Holland, tougher security and anti-trafficking measures could have been put in place far more quickly.

Some welcome changes have been made, and a bigger role is being identified for Europol, which in March announced a joint operational team would be launched to combat irregular migration in the Mediterranean.

However, it needs to be given the necessary resources to effectively undertake this task and to coordinate enforcement action. In their operation in Sicily, Europol's Deputy Director Wil van Gemert asserted that the information acquired by their intelligence operation does not have the capacity to effectively target the traffickers.

Frontex also has the operational power to be very effective, but would benefit from strong leadership. The Europol-Frontex joint working with JOT MARE in Catania provides the perfect platform as a one stop shop for all Member States to work together.

Additional resources and greater powers would help organisations such as Europol and Frontex end localised, ineffective, 9-5 immigration enforcement, which currently gives criminals extra time and space to continue operating undetected.

Eyes on the European Union

So far, when it came to its response to the migration crisis, the EU's various committees have deliberated and debated their way into designing a camel.

After spending a year watching the EU crawling towards lukewarm solutions, it needs to now grasp the enormity of the challenge we face. Otherwise, increasingly dramatic, uncoordinated action, such as Hungary building miles of fencing and Macedonia closing its borders altogether, will be the order of the day.

It is already too late to cling to a 'Fortress Europe'.

We should not wait until mid-October for the meeting of Europe's interior and foreign ministers for a new response, or for more powers to be granted to Europol or Frontex. These talks should take place now, as by the end of the year we could easily see the number of migrants reaching Europe equivalent to the populations of entire member states, such as Malta and Luxembourg combined.

Meeting the Challenge

As we coordinate these agreements to smash trafficking operations across the continent, we should look to Europol to work across borders and promote joint-working between national governments. Give Europol and Frontex the power to take this action, and our response can for the first time be pre-emptive, and not reactive.

That is the challenge we now give to the EU. If we fail to learn from the summer of chaos then we will wander into a truly disastrous winter, as we find Fortress Europe crumbling around us.