Authorities in Germany arrested significantly fewer people smugglers in 2016 compared to the previous year, according to a report from Welt am Sonntag.
Quoting official figures from Germany’s Interior Ministry, the Sunday newspaper said the country’s Federal Police detained 906 people on suspicion of human trafficking offences up until the end of November, a huge fall from the 3,370 alleged smugglers who were held in 2015.
The massive drop in arrests followed the closure in March of the so-called Balkan route, which refugees and economic migrants used to make their way to Western Europe from countries including Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia and Serbia.
It also comes after Turkey agreed to stop migrants making the crossing from its shores to the southern coast of Europe in exchange for millions of euros in aid from the EU at around the same time.
Of the people smugglers who were detained by German police last year, the majority came from Syria, Poland, Germany, Iraq and Russia, according to the paper, which told readers the main hotspot for human trafficking last year remained the country’s border with Austria, where 481 suspects were detained.
The number of asylum applications lodged in Germany by refugees and migrants also fell last year, Welt am Sonntag reported this morning.
According to the figures compiled by Germany‘s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), some 321,000 people registered for asylum in the country last year, compared to an estimated 890,000 in 2015.
Separately, EU border agency Frontex said last Friday that the overall number of migrants entering the European Union fell dramatically in 2016. The number of migrants and refugees who managed to successfully reach Europe by sea last year declined by almost two-thirds to 364,000 compared to 2015.
Frontex said the fall in numbers was mostly a result of the Turkey deal, which led to fewer migrants attempting to make the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean from the country’s coastline.
Discussing the Turkey agreement previously, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “It has allowed us to destroy the human traffickers’ business model.”
Despite the fall in the number of refugees making it to Europe by sea last year, 2016 saw the highest number of deaths in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the migrant crisis. In all, at least 5,000 migrants are thought to have lost their lives attempting to make the crossing last year, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
The UN put the death toll rise down to a change in tactics by people smugglers, who last year increasingly relied on poor quality vessels to traffic their human cargo across the water, and adopted more dangerous practices in a bid to better avoid detection.