Europe has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of irregular migrants arriving in the European Union since 2014. The scale of these migratory flows reached previously unseen heights in 2015. This trend of exponentially increasing numbers of migrants arriving in the EU is set to continue in 2016.

In 2015, more than one million migrants reached the EU. This development has had a profound impact on Europe’s criminal landscape. Criminal networks have quickly adapted to this development and substantially increased their involvement in migrant smuggling. More than 90% of the migrants travelling to the EU used facilitation services. In most cases, these services were offered and provided by criminal groups. A large number of criminal networks as well as individual criminal entrepreneurs now generate substantial profits from migrant smuggling.

Criminal networks exploit the desperation and vulnerability of migrants. They offer a broad range of facilitation services such as the provision of transportation, accommodation and fraudulent documents at excessively high prices. In many cases, irregular migrants are forced to pay for these services by means of illegal labour. The scale of this exploitation is set to further increase in 2016.

In 2015 alone, criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling are estimated to have had a turnover of between EUR 3 -6 billion. This turnover is set to double or triple if the scale of the current migration crisis persists in the upcoming year.

Migrant smuggling to and within the EU is a highly attractive business for criminal networks and has grown significantly in 2015. As the fastest growing criminal market in Europe and other regions, this trend is set to continue in 2016.

In tackling the sophisticated international and European migrant smuggling networks generating enormous profits, law enforcement authorities face a significant challenge over the coming years.