Do human traffickers go unpunished in Sweden?

Do human traffickers go unpunished in Sweden?
Many refugees brought to Europe are thought to be the victims of human smugglers. Photo: AP Photo/Adriana Sapone
Some 40 criminal networks are believed to be involved in people smuggling in Sweden. But a top police inspector has hit out at his own organization, saying that few of the cases lead to prosecution.

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The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean has seen Europe's politicians – including in Sweden – advocate action to put an end to people trafficking rings believed to be operating in the region.

In a report in May, Swedish police revealed that around 40 of these criminal networks were suspected of using Swedish passport in the human trade.

“There are several cases where we think that the smuggling is being organized from here,” Lars Öjelind, head of intelligence at the Swedish police's national operative department, told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) on Tuesday.

But despite the rise in suspected smuggling offences, few cases end up in court.

“These are very complex stories where nobody wants to cooperate with us. When the smugglers have already reached Sweden it is very hard to prove that a crime has been committed,” said Öjelind.

But Göran Larsson, police inspector in the Västra Götaland region and former head of a human smuggler action group, issued sharp criticism on Tuesday.

“People smuggling has of course risen at the speed of increasing illegal immigration. The smugglers are allowed to operate freely and that constitutes professional misconduct by the police,” he told DN.

In 2008 and 2009, 56 and 20 cases in which organized people smuggling was suspected led to prosecution.

“Of course this kind of thing costs money, but we hit the cartels [back then] and that saves money for society,” said Larsson.

Öjelind confirms that fewer resources are put towards fighting human smugglers today, but told DN that more needs to be done on an international scale.

“It is not true that we don't take the question seriously. We do a lot of international work, getting to [the smugglers] on our own in Sweden is near impossible,” he said.

The crisis in the Mediterranean has seen Sweden take in a bigger share of asylum seekers than any other EU member state, when compared to existing population size.

Around 9.7 million people live in the Nordic nation and asylum was granted to more than 33,000 refugees last year. Many make it to Sweden by completely legal means, but some are believed to be the victims of human smugglers.

The country’s open approach to immigration remains a hot topic, with centre-right opposition parties mooting the idea of moving towards much-criticized temporary residency permits rather than permanent asylum.