Cooperation extended of Joint Team against migration crimes Central Mediterranean Route
On 13 December 2023, the National Office of the Netherlands Public Prosecution Service extended its cooperation with law enforcement and judicial authorities in Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The so-called Joint Team is aimed at supporting criminal investigations into crimes against migrants and refugees on the Central Mediterranean Route, and in particular in Libya. The Joint Team is supported by the European Migrant Smuggling Centre of the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol).
The Central Mediterranean Route has since long been known for the extreme violence to which migrants are subjected. Migrants are held in inhumane conditions for long periods of time and tortured for high ransoms. Women and girls are systematically raped. After ransom is paid, migrants are put on unseaworthy boats to cross the Mediterranean. Many of the migrants perish at sea and a probably even higher number of migrants dies on the overland route. Of those who survive the journey, many end up in the Netherlands, often severely traumatised. The Joint Team aims to support criminal investigations to end impunity for these crimes, which may also amount to crimes against humanity.
In the past years, the work of the Joint Team has contributed to the issuance of several arrest warrants by Italy and the Netherlands against alleged key players of human smuggling on the Central Mediterranean Route. One of the suspects in the Dutch case, that was conducted by the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, is a man convicted in Ethiopia for human smuggling and extortion. He was extradited by Ethiopia to the Netherlands in October 2022, where he is being prosecuted for migration crimes: the smuggling of many vulnerable migrants, extortion and participation in a criminal organisation. Five others will be prosecuted for money laundering. The case is in the pre-trial phase, the merits are expected to be discussed before the Overijssel District Court at the end of 2024.
As a result of a coordinated action by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sudan and Interpol, another alleged key player was arrested on 1 January 2023. He is currently in detention in the UAE on charges of financial crimes. The Netherlands has requested the UAE for his extradition but has received no response to date. Both men are considered kingpins on the Central Mediterranean Route and are suspected of using extreme violence against migrants.
The Netherlands National Public Prosecutor’s Office is committed to the work of the Joint Team and believes that this kind of international cooperation is key in the fight against serious organized crime that migrants on this route fall victim to.