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Germany: Government Urges Tighter Controls Against Human Smuggling

The tragic discovery of 58 illegal immigrants found dead in a truck in the English port of Dover has led Germany to demand tighter controls across Europe to stop the smuggling of people. According to international organizations, Germany and Britain are the favored goals of smuggling gangs.

Munich, 22 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- In the wake of the Dover tragedy, the German government has called on all European countries to tighten the already strict border controls in a new effort stop what it calls "people smugglers."

The German Interior Ministry said in a report this week that international police organizations have identified five major people-smuggling routes into Western Europe. The report calls for strengthened controls on all borders crossed by these smuggling routes.

What is known as the northern route begins in Asia and crosses Russia, the Baltic countries, and Poland. The middle route crosses the Ukraine, the Baltic countries, and the Czech Republic. The southern route passes through Bulgaria, Romania, and the Balkans. The remaining two routes bring illegal immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa across the Mediterranean to Greece, Italy, France, and Spain.

The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, or IOM, told RFE/RL that Britain and Germany are the most popular destinations for illegal immigrants. France and Italy are mostly transit states, although some illegal immigrants do head for those countries.

The European police authority, Europol, says that illegal refugees from Iraq heading to Germany are usually smuggled from Morocco or Algeria into France and then travel into Germany. Thanks to the European Union's agreement on visa-free travel, there are virtually no controls on the border between France and Germany.

The number of illegal immigrants into Germany is, of course, unknown, but the size of the operation is indicated by the number caught by border guards. Figures released by the Interior Ministry this week show that 37,800 were caught on German borders last year (1999). About half of them were Kosovar Albanians, Afghans, or people from Iraq. Many of the latter are Kurds.

The Interior Ministry said that at least one-third of those caught were brought to Germany's borders by organized gangs of "people smugglers" who work together in all Third World countries.

A German Interior Ministry official says the tragic case in Britain is not exceptional. Container trucks and freight-carrying trucks are often used by gangs to smuggle illegal immigrants across Europe and into Germany. The official says the immigrants are usually hidden behind a front container carrying tomatoes or other legal goods. "Every corner of a lorry load, no matter how small, is considered good enough for a human being who wants to be transported illegally into another country," he said. The official says that those who traffic in illegal immigrants are the same people who traffic in other illegal smuggling. In his words: "To these people, it makes no difference whether the smuggled goods are cigarettes or people. Smuggling human beings brings more money but the risks are higher."

One problem is the number of trucks crossing borders throughout the day and night. The British port of Dover processes 720 container trucks each day. Just as many, if not more, cross other European borders each day.

This week's German Interior Ministry report says that in recent years the main focus of smuggling activities into Germany has shifted from the Polish border to the Czech border. It now appears to be moving towards the border between Germany and Austria.

Of the 37,800 would-be immigrants caught by Germany last year, some 12,800 were trapped at the German-Czech border and 11,000 at the border with Austria.

The Interior Ministry said that last year, German border authorities arrested 3,400 members of smuggling gangs. Most of the smugglers were either Czechs, Germans, or nationals from the former Yugoslavia. But the ministry notes that the perpetrators caught by German guards are just the last in a long chain of smugglers that begins as far away as Iraq or China.

According to the International Organization for Migration, the going rate for carrying an illegal immigrant from the Middle East to Western Europe is between $5,000 and $10,000. The price for Kurds who want to enter Germany illegally is about $3,000.

The IOM says Chinese people may pay as much as $30,000 each to be taken to Western Europe. Because very few have this kind of money, they commit themselves to work for years after their arrival to pay it off. An IOM spokesman said that, in effect, illegal immigrants become the slaves of those who provide the money.