Paris, France, October 2020 – One of the unforeseen consequences of the Covid-19 crisis is that organised crime has extended its grip on areas where it was already rife and adapted to the situation by diversifying its operations. Indeed, a July report by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) warned that “the pandemic has both reduced certain organized crime activities while simultaneously providing opportunities for new ones. Organized criminal groups (OCGs) are trying to increase their profits not only by infiltrating private companies but also by misusing public funds.”
The same month, a Europol report said that “economic hardship and recession may lead to an increased receptiveness to offers of organised crime, an increase in corruption levels, enhanced migratory flows, an increased demand for labour and sexual exploitation, and an increased demand for counterfeit and substandard goods. Organised property crime may reappear with new forms of tricks tailored to the pandemic.”
Efus’ working group on organised crime
Such is the context in which Efus’ working group on organised crime – set up in December 2019 and led by the Dutch cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam – held a working session on how to locally combat the ever-expanding presence of organised criminal groups in local life, on 23 September. The seminar gathered representatives from ANCI Piedmont (IT), the Emilia-Romagna Region (IT), Lisbon (PT), Stuttgart (DE), Vilvoorde (BE), and the Belgian (FBPSU), Italian (FISU) and German (DEFUS) forums. The working group discussed the three topics it will focus on in the foreseeable future:
- organised crime in European ports,
- trafficking in human beings (THB),
- organised crime and the legal economy.
Regarding organised crime in European ports, the participants identified the following focus points:
> Make European port cities’ interests regarding security better heard at EU level. They stressed the need to implement coherent measures throughout the EU and to act collectively, which gives port cities more clout when dealing with international corporations such as shipping companies.
> Exchanging practices, strategies and knowledge. This includes cooperation in the approach to drug crime in ports, strengthening ties with countries of origin in Latin America and other port cities in Europe, and facilitating prevention and awareness with port companies.
> Identifying new areas for cooperation, in particular through a partnership with a network of port cities.
Regarding trafficking in human beings, the participants emphasised the benefits of exchanging among cities, notably in order to better follow trafficking flows between cities, and with all relevant local stakeholders. Efus pointed out that it had created a network of member cities on the issue of unaccompanied minors some years ago, and that the same could be done now for THB.
The following focus points were identified:
> advocating cities’ needs and concerns at EU level,
> making sure that repressive measures, notably against illegal immigration, do not deter victims from contacting the police. Also, partners such as the police should be able to recognise victims of criminal exploitation as such, rather than viewing them as criminals.
> Identifying areas for cooperation, such as countering networks that facilitate the trafficking of sex workers across Europe.
Regarding organised crime and the legal economy, which according to UNODC has intensified in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, participants discussed how to reinforce measures taken at the national level by combatting organised crime’s infiltration in the local economy. One avenue long promoted by Italy, with some success, is the approach whereby local public authorities confiscate or recover ill-gained or laundered assets. Another important aspect consists in raising awareness among the local population and empowering citizens to report illegal activities.
The seminar participants identified the following focus points:
> the impact of criminal money flows in the legal economy,
> local competencies and challenges in tackling criminal money flows,
> working together in policy making and exchanging knowledge,
> sharing knowledge with colleagues, finding common ground for lobbying and European policy making and involving experts to strengthen knowledge
> The working group on organised crime will meet again in December 2020 and in March 2021, prior to Efus’ “Security, Democracy & Cities” international conference ( 26, 27 & 28 May, Nice, France)
> Follow the working group on Efus Network