Virtual expert meeting on irregular migration

In the framework of its mandate, the EUROMED Migration IV (EMM4) project held on 4 November 2020 a webinar titled “Migrant Vulnerabilities along the Mediterranean Migration Routes: A Perspective on Structural Challenges and Current Developments”, at the request of the EMM4 national focal points.

The webinar gathered government experts on human trafficking and smuggling of migrants from various European and MENA countries to address the critical issue of irregular migration and migrant vulnerabilities in the Euro-Mediterranean region, and the impact of COVID-19 on migration movements.

Delegates were welcomed by Ms Francesca Fabbri, Policy Officer at DG NEAR – European Commission, and Ms Ana Feder, ICMPD Portfolio Manager, and were briefed by Ms Melita Gruevska-Graham, Head of the ICMPD Anti-Trafficking Programme, and Ms Giulia Casentini, Country Researcher for the Central Mediterranean Route.

The two experts presented the findings of the empirical research conducted by ICMPD Anti-trafficking programme on human trafficking in dynamic mixed migration contexts and humanitarian crises in the period 2014 – 2019. The comprehensive study analyses the effects of the Syrian conflict and displacement on human trafficking in Syria and its neighbouring countries, and assesses the gaps, needs and challenges in the identification, referral, protection and rehabilitation of trafficked people who used migration routes to Europe, as well as vulnerability and resilience to trafficking in the context of the Eastern Mediterranean, Balkan and Central Mediterranean migration routes and in destination countries.

The expert presentation focused on the combination of vulnerability factors that lead people who migrate or seek refuge to exploitation, as well as being resilient to trafficking. This empirical research is particularly relevant to the current context of COVID-19, since travel restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus have not stopped smuggling of migrants, but increased their vulnerability to trafficking, as smugglers and traffickers regularly adapt their modus operandi to changing circumstances.

At the end of the meeting, the two experts shared a series of key recommendations for tackling the crime of migrant smuggling and trafficking, also in light of the specific context of the pandemic. These include expanding alternatives for legal migration; ensuring that existing and future policies and practices do not leave migrants more vulnerable to exploitation; training asylum authorities and trafficking in human being stakeholders to identify trafficked people and building connection between migration and asylum authorities and anti-trafficking stakeholders in order to fill the existing gaps in protection.