Ladies and gentlemen,
we are gathered at a critical moment here today.
It is already commonly known that more than a million desperate people have entered in the EU in 2015 – risking their lives throughout the entire itinerary of the process.
Many of those have used smuggling networks to come here.
In a crisis like today, which affects the war-torn countries of origin, the people looking for safety, but also the host societies and their citizens, we have a rising and increasingly developed criminal network, which not only abuses this crisis and the vulnerability of people, but also makes huge profits.
Not only is this criminal and legally unacceptable – it is morally abhorrent.
The refugee crisis that we are facing is complex and multidimensional, and requires a comprehensive and joint approach
Migrant smuggling is a phenomenon that transcends national borders – and can therefore only be eradicated effectively through a joint approach.
That is why today is a more than timely occasion for the launch of the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, at the 2nd Europol and Interpol Operational Forum on migrant smuggling.
The EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling, adopted in May last year, set the goal to turn this crime from a low risk, high profit business, into a high risk, low profit one.
The European Migrant Smuggling Centre should boost the fight against ruthless migrant smuggling networks all across Europe.
It builds upon analytical and operational expertise developed within Europol over the years.
It also builds on the Joint Operation Team focused on the Mediterranean so called JOT MARE, which was officially launched in March 2015.
With the European Migrant Smuggling Centre, we want to go beyond the Mediterranean to cover the whole of the EU, and all forms of smuggling and routes
The Centre will be the European information hub to combat migrant smuggling.
It will provide support through analysis, cross-matching of data as well as through deployment of experts, operational meetings and joint actions.
It will enable Europol to be more operational on the ground.
Its presence in the hotspots will be strengthened through the deployment of EU Mobile Investigation Support Teams.
I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for law enforcement agencies at national level to use all means and expertise to track and seize criminal assets of migrant smugglers.
The Migrant Smuggling Centre will boost this expertise and enhance the exchange of best practices between Member States.
Cooperation between Europol and Frontex, which will be significantly strengthened by the recent agreement enabling the exchange of personal data, will be crucial for facilitating the fight against migrant smuggling.
But the new centre will only contribute to fighting smuggling if national law enforcement agencies share quality information, and do so in real time.
Let us be clear: We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to scale up significantly our fight against migrant smuggling.
We cannot underestimate the vile but unfortunately increasingly detrimental and powerful role that smuggling networks play in the refugee crisis
The Centre will also act as a catalyst to channel cooperation with all relevant organisations, including Interpol.
But it is important to achieve a sharing of tasks that is effective, where every organisation does what it is best placed to do, and where duplication is avoided.
It is crucial to step up cooperation with third countries.
The EU is already supporting projects, but additional and more targeted actions need to be implemented.
With Turkey being the main transit country of irregular migration to the EU, it is particularly important to ensure strong cooperation with them against migrant smuggling.
Following the deployment of a Frontex Liaison Officer to Turkey, we look forward to seeing an increase cooperation and growing exchange of information between Europol and Turkish authorities.
Finally, we have a new player in the fight against smuggling.
NATO vessels have arrived in the Aegean Sea to start monitoring the migration route between Turkey and Greece.
The ultimate aim is to feed information to the national authorities in Greece and Turkey, in cooperation with the European Union's border agency FRONTEX, focusing on criminal migrant smuggling networks fuelling the migration crisis.
The full details of the mission are still being finalized between all the parties involved.
It is with great sense of urgency that I want to encourage all of you - national governments of EU and third countries, EU agencies and international organisations - to step up your work against migrant smuggling.
It is important now to produce results: arrests and prosecution of identified migrant smugglers, in order to show these criminals that they cannot continue business as usual.
The Commission is fully committed to supporting the European Migrant Smuggling Centre to become a key information hub in the fight against migrant smuggling.