European Union: Can human trafficking be stopped?
It looks like “mass murder,” said The Guardian (U.K.) in an editorial. The bodies of 39 people, most thought to be Vietnamese, were found in a refrigerated container in southeastern England last week. In search of a better life, they had paid smugglers to transport them to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, where they entered the airtight container and set off for the English port of Benfleet. Three hours before the box was opened, passenger Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent a harrowing text message to her mother in Vietnam. “I’m sorry, Mom. My journey abroad hasn’t succeeded,” she wrote. “I’m dying because I can’t breathe.” The Northern Irish driver of the container truck has been arrested and charged with manslaughter, but the trafficking ring surely extends further. These deaths come “in spite of better detection methods and greater official alertness”—or perhaps because of them. Improvements at ports such as Calais “may have diverted people smugglers to less tightly monitored ports, such as Zeebrugge.” And dangerous refrigerated containers are used because they are “more effectively sealed from scrutiny.”
“How could this happen again?” asked Guillaume Goubert in La Croix (France). This isn’t the first time Europe has seen trucks become mobile coffins. In 2000, 58 Chinese migrants were found dead in a trailer in the English port of Dover. In 2015, the decomposing bodies of 71 migrants—including four children—were discovered in a truck abandoned on an Austrian highway. These tragedies are made possible by “the appalling cynicism of smugglers who don’t hesitate to risk the death of their ‘customers’ to maximize their profits.” In Western Europe, politicians routinely say we must “block the road to migrants.” But few offer serious proposals to crack down on the traffickers who “offer their disastrous services to those dreaming of a better existence.”
Without legal routes to get in, human trafficking will continue, said Viktor Funk in the Frankfurter Rundschau (Germany). Over the past decade Europe’s leaders have thrown up border walls, restricted work visas, and tightened the process for gaining asylum—even though the fast-graying Continent needs more young workers. Unsurprisingly, “people-smuggling services have flourished.” EU interior ministers could cripple the trafficking industry by “creating safer migration routes, a modern immigration policy, and an asylum system that deserves the name.”
That’s not going to happen anytime soon, said Heidi Avellan in Sydsvenskan (Sweden). EU officials got down “on their knees for the despot in Ankara,” trying to strike a deal with Turkey to keep Syrian refugees there, not here. All across the bloc, parties have sprung up “whose sole policy idea is to stop immigration,” such as the Sweden Democrats, France’s National Rally, and Austria’s Freedom Party. We’ll do “anything to keep the gate closed.” And the desperate of this earth will do anything to reach our supposed lands of opportunity and safety. They will leap from bridges onto passing trucks, pack into rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean—and climb into airless containers. ■