THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The European Union's police organization has launched a new unit dedicated to tackling migrant smuggling as part of the 28-nation bloc's efforts to stem the flow of people pouring into the continent as they flee conflict and poverty.
Europol Director Rob Wainwright said Monday his organization estimates that nine out of every 10 asylum-seekers arriving in Europe have their travel facilitated by a criminal smuggling network.
He says the new center at Europol's headquarters in The Hague will help EU member states "improve their exchange of information and operational coordination in the fight against organized migrant smuggling."
According to a Europol report, criminal networks involved in people smuggling had an estimated turnover last year of 3-6 billion euros ($3.3-$6.6 billion), as more than 1 million migrants arrived last year.
Europol says it has intelligence on more than 40,000 people suspected of involvement in migrant smuggling. Last year alone, information on more than 10,000 suspects was shared with Europol, resulting in 1,551 investigations targeting networks active in the EU.
The European Union has called an extraordinary summit with Turkey for early March to coordinate efforts to stem the flow of migrants across the Aegean into Greece.