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Europe, living on the edge

Submitted by on 30 Mar 2016 – 10:59

The unprecedented influx of migrants, fear of terrorist attacks and increasing number victims of human trafficking have widened the scope of organisations created to advance policy and practice in prevention and control of crime. In an exclusive interview with Janani Krishnaswamy, Commissioning Editor, Government Gazette, Dr Cindy J Smith, Director, United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice discusses the organisation’s priorities in tackling these existential threats and implementing efficient policies to establish social peace and stability

Dr Cindy Smith

Today, Europe is facing several threats and challenges ranging from transnational terrorism to human trafficking and the migrant crisis. Over the past year, an unprecedented number of migrants have made their way to Europe leading several countries to temporarily reintroduce border controls within the Schengen zone. Fears abound that terrorists could make the most of migration to slip into Europe. Fears of attacks in Europe have grown ever since Islamic militants carried out a spate of massacres in Paris in November last year.

The number of victims of human trafficking has also been growing, with the victim rate rising by more than a fifth last year in the UK alone. Increasingly these human traffickers are changing their illegal trafficking routes to Europe. Overall, the UK Home Office has estimated that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern-day slavery just in the UK. Migrants and refugees fleeing wars or natural disasters are becoming more and more vulnerable.

In an interview with Janani Krishnaswamy, Commissioning Editor, Government Gazette, the newly appointed Director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, Dr Cindy J Smith discusses her goals in relation to implementing improved policies in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice.

As the newly appointed Director of UNICRI, what would be some of your immediate priorities in tackling criminal threats to social peace, development and political stability?

We are an independent Institute and our efforts are aimed at advising and informing governments, the private sector and the civil society about emerging risks and problems to be urgently addressed. In this respect, we play an active role in raising their awareness, promoting actions and enhancing capabilities to tackle current and potential threats. UNICRI supports the international community in assessing the magnitude of criminal threats, designing new policies and strategies, providing training and developing platforms for cooperation.

We are addressing several critical issues; all of them require urgent intervention. That is why we operate in roughly a dozen different areas at the same level of priority, from mitigating the potential risks related of advances in technologies – such as the improper use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material (CBRN) – to preventing many other phenomena including cyber crimes, environmental crimes, violent extremism, human trafficking, counterfeiting and illicit trafficking of precious metals.

My vision of UNICRI is to provide a rapid response to the changing nature of all types of crimes that threatens peace and security. What I do consider as a priority is to address all these current or potential threats by taking in due consideration their impact on people. This is to say that I put victims at the forefront of our agenda and an inclusive and citizens centred approach as a pillar of our strategy.
In all the thematic fields UNICRI operates, we address factors that result in criminal threats to social peace, development and political stability, by reducing the vulnerabilities of people to crime. In addition, I do believe that promoting people’s rights, equality and dignity is the best strategy to tackle the threats posed by organised crime and violent extremism. We may recognise that the most effective ally in the fight against crime and extremism is civil society. Our priority is therefore to promote just and resilient societies. This is the most important sustainable response to guarantee peace, development and stability.

UNICRI will support the fulfilment of the United Nations post-2015 agenda, and in particular help in promoting peaceful, inclusive societies and access to justice. We assist in building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

What kind of efforts should European countries take to destroy criminal gangs of human traffickers exploiting the migrant crisis? What are some of the good practices you advise countries in this regard?

First of all, I think it is important we consider migration as a structural and permanent phenomenon of our modern society. A positive one, since it is usually associated with economic growth in the origin and destination countries. Of course migration crises can happen, especially those linked to major adverse events such as wars or natural disasters. Their tragic consequences are under everyone’s eyes.

In the future, we will continue to experience migration and humanitarian crises impacting different regions, especially those affected by climate change. Europe is experiencing an unprecedented emergency due to the Middle East situation. The 28 countries of the EU are addressing the crises in different ways, but the current situation should be viewed as an opportunity to harmonise European policies and actions on asylum seekers and economic migrants. It is also an important opportunity to join efforts in countering traffickers and smugglers. I think these opportunities will be missed if the problem is confined as an issue of border security only.
On the other hand, we cannot deny that the global economic crises and the fear of terrorism are interfering with the current European debate on migration. However, having an agreed policy at regional level is fundamental and this is valid for Europe as well as for other regions of the world.

In future, I think we should improve our capacities to develop policies and implement actions to prevent crises especially in origin countries and regions. When a situation is addressed as an emergency, there is a high probability of lacking consensus and putting in place interventions which mitigate the adverse impact of the crises but do not address the root causes. Organised crime is taking advantage of our weaknesses in preventing and managing such crises in a timely manner. Thus, we should bring all actors – health professionals, criminal justice system actors, policy makers, environmentalists, foreign affairs actors, the economic experts, etc. to the table. We should provide them with real examples of what has occurred elsewhere and help them practice a response. It is within this context that they can identify their gaps in the process and develop a plan to close the gaps.

We have to recognise that human traffickers have remained in operation over several decades. Once a criminal group is dismantled, another one is ready to take its place. Over the past few decades, criminal organisations have increased their sphere of action, perpetuating a vicious and inseparable cycle between the management of illegal activities and the reinvestment of capital in the legal economy. Criminal organisations are very dynamic, they are able to rapidly adapt to new political and economic scenarios, change routes and exploit new victims. Like any other commodity, organised crime groups displace people and goods where there is demand, by taking advantage of unstable contexts, the absence of the rule of law and the routes crossing the weakest countries.

We do believe it is crucial to enhance capabilities, cooperation and sharing of information on transnational criminal syndicates. It is crucial that the law enforcement and the judiciary of different countries work together. In parallel, we must address the root-causes of trafficking in human beings by doubling peace making and development efforts. It is crucial to establish coherent frameworks, finding long-term solutions, whenever is possible with the involvement of the countries of origin, transit and destination. We also have to improve the legal frameworks and operational protocols for refugees and economic migrants. Much more should be done to support victims and give them concrete alternatives in their origin or destination countries.

Tackling corruption is also a fundamental part of the process, we have to end impunity. Criminal groups rely on corrupt officials, avoid border controls and take advantage of the lack of strong normative regimes, capabilities and cooperation.
We must tackle the problem from a regional and global perspective. Crime displacement is a serious concern. When we assist only one country to close their gaps, crime moves to the next weakest link in the chain of countries.

In addition, we should not underestimate the negative effect that criminalisation and stigmatisation of migrants produce on social cohesion. Migrants who commit offences have to be brought to justice, but too often their crimes – the crimes of a limited segment of the migrant population – encourage prejudice and criminal labelling of religious or ethnic minority groups.

Despite long-standing efforts made by governments, real integration of migrants in hosting societies has not yet reached a satisfactory level. Living in deteriorated neighbourhoods, faced with discrimination, difficulties in finding or keeping a cultural identity accepted by the hosting society and lack of a real dialogue may lead to unemployment, alienation and frustration and consequently create the conditions for social conflicts, extremism and delinquency among immigrants, especially among youth people.

We have to rethink our present to shape our future and ask ourselves what we have created for future generations, how much we are investing on them. Many current situations are challenging the principles of a united globalised community. We have to pass this test and defend these principles. The principles of the United Nations Charter that starts with We the people.
There is no security if the basic rights of people, the rights to leave in peace and prosperity are violated.

The UN estimates that more than 700,000 people have crossed to Europe by boat so far this year Roughly 13 percent of refugees travelling toward Europe are women. Of those, some 4,200 are estimated to be pregnant and another 1,400 “at risk of sexual violence.” What are some of your priorities in preventing and eradicating trafficking and exploitation? Can you detail the present work of UNICRI in tackling human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Europe?

Over the past decade, UNICRI has been strongly involved in the implementation of many applied-research and technical assistance projects in the field of counter-trafficking in persons and child exploitation in various areas of the world. The activities have been carried out in the Czech Republic, Costa Rica, Germany, Italy, Nigeria, Poland, Thailand, the Philippines and Ukraine.

Our programmes seek on the one hand to strengthen institutional capacities to curb trafficking flows and on the other to rehabilitate trafficked victims and decrease the vulnerability of potential trafficking victims, especially women and children. Activities are carried out in close cooperation with governments as well as with international organisations and civil society members involved in preventing and combating trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

In 2016, UNICRI will implement a new project aimed at promoting a comprehensive coordination mechanism to deal with migratory flows in North Africa and counter organized crime in human trafficking and smuggling of migrants.
The project represents the inception component of a broader programme aimed at enhancing regional and national rapid response mechanisms to tackle the challenges posed by irregular migration, human trafficking and smuggling of migrants in North Africa. It will enhance coordination of existing initiatives and cooperation among key stakeholders at national and regional level in North African countries.

Today more than ever we must support development and the rule of law in the fight against trafficking in persons. Our efforts to counter this scourge have to be comprehensive. None can play in isolation since the most powerful weapon we have is our capacity to address the phenomenon comprehensively and collectively.