Czech-German Police Break Major Trafficking Network

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

According to the German government, Austria overtook the Czech Republic as the main route into Germany for illegal immigrants.

In one of its most successful operations against
human traffickers, the Czech police have arrested 15 members of a
gang that was helping immigrants cross illegally into Germany. In
similar sweeps in Cologne, Munich, and Bonn, German police made 16
arrests.

The 150 police officers involved in the
operation found 130 migrants at five different sites. Their German
counterparts seized 29 migrants.

Police say that it has evidence that the gang
has transported 400 Asian migrants into the EU, earning at least 54
million crowns (roughly $2 million). However, it suspects the gang
has taken many more immigrants into Western Europe. Each would-be
immigrant had paid $10,000 to $15,000.

According to the Czech police, human trafficking
may now be more profitable than drug trafficking.

Ivan Cernik from the Czech police’s
organized crime unit indicated that there may be dozens of
comparable groups operating in the Czech Republic.

The results of this raid reflected current
trends. For the past 10 years, the Czech Republic has been a major
transit point, with the major destination being Germany. As in this
case, most illegal migrants passing through the Czech Republic come
from China, with the route normally running through Russia,
Ukraine, and Slovakia. , although Armenians are another group
singled out by Czech police.

The three Czechs arrested were, as usual, lower
in the chain of command, with responsibility for establishing local
contacts and, in one case, transporting, guarding, and housing the
migrants.

According to German figures, almost as many
Czechs (325) as Germans (333) were arrested in 2001 for trafficking
in Germany.

One trend, though, may be changing. According to
the German government, Austria overtook the Czech Republic as the
main route into Germany for illegal immigrants.

According to a U.S. State Department report on
human trafficking released in mid-June, Czech border guards are now
working more closely with their counterparts in Germany and
Austria. However, it added that “border monitoring is
relatively weaker regarding the Polish and Slovak border, but the
government is using EU assistance to improve its border
control.”

Concern over border security is one reason why
the German authorities are urging Prague and Warsaw to continue to
carry out border checks after the two countries join the European
Union in May 2004.

Poland and the Czech Republic were two of only
three Central and Eastern European countries to rank in the top
tier of countries fighting against trafficking in the U.S.
government report. The other was Lithuania.

However, the report criticized Czech courts for
“uneven” information on convictions and “a lack
of resources [that] hampered some overall efforts.”

The Czech police’s Cernik was more
forthright, saying that the biggest problem in cracking down on
traffickers is the benevolence of the courts, which have
“often allowed [traffickers] leave the court with conditional
sentences.”

The successful raids came three weeks after
delegates from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE) gathered in Prague to debate trafficking heard OSCE
Ambassador Daan Everts say, “We need a war on
trafficking.”

Statements by Everts and other delegates at the
meeting, which was called to help draft an international action
plan to combat human-trafficking, indicated that a new focus of
policy will be cooperation with the private sector.

“International conventions, national
legislation, efforts for training and awareness, do not suffice if
the private sector is not also actively involved,” he
said.

Everts called the business community &l
dquo;an important ally,” singling out transport providers,
banks, and employment agencies as particularly important as
“they see what is happening right in front of
them.”

The OSCE forum and the U.S. State Department
report both highlighted the role of NGOs. Everts said that he saw
the possibility that the OSCE could be a “catalyst or honest
broker” to encourage international cooperation between
NGOs.

At the release of the U.S. government’s
“Trafficking in Persons“ report, John Miller, director
of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat
Trafficking in Persons, described NGOs as “pillars” in the fight
against human trafficking and called for an expansion in alliances
between governments and NGOs, including greater information
sharing.

However, the potential strains between
governments and NGOs were highlighted last week when the American
Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank that has been
particularly influential with the Bush administration, held a
conference entitled “Nongovernmental Organizations: The Growing
Power of an Unelected Few” at which speakers expressed concern at
the alleged opacity and lack of accountability of many NGOs.


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