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Jul 26, 2017

The EU is surrounded by states that fail to counter human trafficking

“Human trafficking is one of the most tragic human rights issues of our time,” according to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Among other findings, the report clearly reveals that Europe is under serious threat. It is high time, the text shows, for European authorities and legislators to start taking border protection seriously.

Human trafficking has become a serious issue for European security, as most of the countries bordering the EU to the east and south are among the worst human trafficking offenders in the world. The report evaluates the problem in these bordering countries according to four categories (or “tiers”) of increasing importance.

The circle consists of Mauritania, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, and Iran (among others) on the south southeastern flank, while Russia and Belarus are equally labeled as “countries that do not fully meet the [Trafficking Victims Protection Act]’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.” These nations are very likely departure points for people smuggled into the European Union and are therefore posing a large security threat.

Similarly, according to the report, Hungary is criticized for not providing the best social services for the victims of human trafficking. However, you must remember that a significant portion of these victims do not consider human traffickers victimizers, rather service providers, who, with the help of certain NGOs, guarantee passage into the EU. So, how does a state defend itself when it is encircled by states that do nothing to prosecute or prevent human trafficking on their soil?

We see Europe turning a blind eye to the human traffickers crossing the Mediterranean Seaand even disregarding reports of the potential alliance between NGOs and human traffickers off the southern borders.

Over the course of 2017, as the UNHCR reported, NGO private rescue vessels have picked up one out of every three migrants that arrive in Italy — and Italy seems to have had enough. “It’s unsustainable that all the vessels doing search and rescue operations are landing in Italy. We could deny the landing of boats that are not flying Italian flags and are not part of EU missions,” Maurizio Massari, Permanent Representative of Italy to the EU, stated recently  in a meeting with migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Last week, shortly after Austria deployed some 750 soldiers and four armored military vehicles to the Brenner Pass, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said, "We are ready to protect our Brenner border if necessary.” At the same time, Matteo Renzi, former Italian prime minister and leader of the ruling PD party, called for “a fixed number of migrants” and entreated Italy to “escape from their do-gooder mentality.”

An increasing number of EU countries are realizing that the Hungarian model – ratcheting up border security and moving refugee processing facilities away from the borders of the EU – is the right solution. “Change is happening country by country, and after Italy we await the next member state to join our club,” expressed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in a recent radio interview.

On the other hand, the report praises Hungary for erecting legal and physical barriers to protect Europe’s southern borders and thus hurting the illegal business of human trafficking. Reason for praise lies in Hungary’s “significant efforts” to confront the issue, which parallels the report’s three Ps – prosecution, prevention, and protection – for tackling human trafficking. They include, “amending [Hungary’s] criminal code to allow for the seizure of assets held by traffickers, conducting training of prosecutors and judicial personnel, cooperating with foreign law enforcement on joint trafficking investigations, and increasing funding for public awareness and anti-trafficking efforts.”

Similarly, the European Union should make greater effort to combat trafficking, as it will not vanish by itself.

We understand that state-level legislation concerning human trafficking is more important than ever. But does the lack of national effort constitute a major part of the trafficking crisis that the European Union has been facing recently?

We can only maintain the security of our citizens if we stop illegal migration. As long as human trafficking remains a widespread security threat, it should remain a priority for EU member state governments.