EU: New Europol Team to Combat Human Smuggling Gangs in Mediterranean

Europol, the European Union's Netherlands-based police agency, launched a new initiative to tackle human trafficking gangs operating across the Mediterranean on Tuesday.

Mediterranean SeaAccording to Europol estimates, smuggling gangs sent 220,000 migrants on dangerous routes over the Mediterranean to states in the EU in 2014 alone, in a growing trend that has put migration pressure on European countries such as Greece and Italy.

The new intelligence-led operation, named JOT Mare, is to share information and cooperate with the international police organization Interpol, EU border agency Frontex, and the police forces of EU member states to track and break up smuggling networks.

The groups exploit migrants fleeing conflict in countries such as Libya, Egypt and Syria by charging thousands of dollars to pack them onto overcrowded boats and send them out to sea - a practice that Europol claims resulted in over 3,000 deaths in 2014. It said 1,000 more were killed since the beginning of 2015.  

The United Nations has identified the Mediterranean as a hotspot for dangerous human smuggling activity. In January, High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres criticized anti-trafficking measures as insufficient after several vessels were intercepted in the area.