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19-09-2023 13:29

Welcome address by the Minister of Justice and Public Order, Ms Anna Koukkides - Prokopiou, at the 18th CrimEx and 2nd EMJNet meeting, in Larnaka

It is with great pleasure that I have accepted the invitation to address today’s meeting and have the opportunity to welcome you today to the 18th CrimEx and 2nd EMJnet meeting of the Euromed Justice Program, held here in Larnaka. The Ministry of Justice and Public Order, together with the Law Office of the Republic of Cyprus, are deeply honoured to host this important gathering of legal experts and professionals in the field of Criminal Justice.

I would like to extend a warm and heartfelt welcome to each and every one of you who have travelled here, from various countries of the Mediterranean but also from various EU countries. Your presence at this meeting signifies your dedication to the Euromed Justice Program and to fostering collaboration, as well as addressing the challenges and opportunities available in the field of cooperation in criminal matters and making the Mediterranean region, and by extension the rest of the European Union, a safer place for all citizens.

Last but not least, I would like to express my gratitude to the dedicated Euromed Justice Program Team for organizing this meeting.

Before we begin today’s conference, I would like to express my deepest condolences for the recent tragedies that occurred as a result of the earthquake in Morocco and the floods in Greece and Libya, which led to massive loss of lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, those who have suffered losses, as well as with those who are still going through challenging times.

In the face of adversity, it is important that we come together to support one another, offer comfort, and seek solutions for a brighter future. Having gathered for this meeting, let us remember that we are here not only to address the challenges and opportunities at our disposal to foster and encourage cooperation in the Mediterranean region in combatting crime, but also to stand together, offering comfort, empathy and compassion to those who need it the most, in these difficult times.

Meetings, such as the one today, give us the opportunity to meet, face to face, with colleagues, fellow professionals and experts in the field of criminal justice and international cooperation. This allows us to create synergies and bedrock foundations for working relationships to be built upon, based on mutual trust and understanding.

The Euromed Justice Programme, which is hosted at Eurojust since 2020, holds paramount importance in fostering collaboration and strengthening the judicial and law enforcement systems in the European Union and the South Partner Countries of the Mediterranean region. This Programme serves as a critical bridge between nations, facilitating cooperation and mutual support in addressing the complex challenges of modern crime and justice.

The Euromed Justice Programme promotes international partnerships, uniting stakeholders from EU member states and South Partner Countries. This collaborative framework encourages the exchange of best practices, knowledge and experiences, enhancing the effectiveness of criminal justice systems across borders.

Moreover, it addresses pressing transnational threats, such as organized crime, human trafficking and migrant smuggling. By pooling together resources and expertise, it equips authorities with the tools needed to combat these complex issues collectively.

Most importantly, however, the programme upholds the principles of the rule of law and human rights, ensuring that justice is served, while respecting fundamental values. It aims to protect the rights of both victims and accused individuals in the pursuit of justice.

It would be very fair to say that the Euromed Justice Programme contributes to regional stability and security. By fostering cooperation and trust among nations, it not only strengthens legal systems but also promotes peace and stability in the Mediterranean region and the European Union more generally and is instrumental in addressing contemporary challenges that transcend borders. It plays a pivotal role in promoting justice, security and cooperation among nations, ultimately contributing to a safer and more just society.

All of the above are achieved through the tools that have been developed, which are at the disposal of the Euromed Justice Programme. CrimEx is the group of experts on criminal matters, consisting of judicial professionals in the field of criminal justice, appointed by their respective countries as members. The Euromed Justice Network facilitates initial contact between judicial authorities once the need arises and, last but not least, the Prosecutors General Forum deliberates, adopts, or endorses strategy and policy documents, recommendations, opinions and reports proposed by CrimEx.

Addressing the complexities presented by illegal immigration in the Mediterranean region, both regionally, and at the EU level, is of utmost importance and this is reflected by the top priority given to this crime type by EU Law and policy makers.

Migrant smuggling is not merely a regional issue; it is a global concern that demands our immediate attention, not only for the legal complexities faced by judicial authorities when investigating such cases, but also due to its humanitarian aspect. The Mediterranean region, due to its geographical proximity to Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe, has been a hotspot for this illicit activity. Migrants, often driven by the hope for a better life, face perilous journeys across the sea, with organized criminal groups that make profit out of their despair. Tragic incidents, such as boats capsizing leading to loss of life, remind us of the dire consequences.

Cyprus is a country deeply affected by this phenomenon, as it has become a hotspot and desired destination for illegal immigrants seeking asylum and a way into the European Union. The main reasons for this are the geographical location of Cyprus and its political situation, which make it an attractive initial landing point and an easy entry for illegal immigrants into the European Union.

Since the illegal invasion of Cyprus in 1974 by Turkey and the ongoing occupation of more than 36% of the island’s territory by the Turkish army, organized criminal networks operating in the migrant smuggling have been taking advantage of the fragile political situation.

Organized criminal groups gather immigrants, from various countries of the Middle East and Africa, into mainland Turkey, from where they are channeled into the government-controlled areas of Cyprus. This is achieved by transporting the immigrants, through the occupied areas and facilitating them to cross the buffer zone into the free territories of the Republic and then apply for asylum at the authorities of the Republic of Cyprus.

The obstacles encountered and the challenges faced by the police and judicial authorities in Cyprus for combating this crime type are immense. As a consequence, members of the organized criminal groups responsible for the smuggling of illegal immigrants evade capture.

Discussions in today’s meeting will focus on sharing experiences, insights and on proposing solutions to combat migrant smuggling. Sharing experiences on dealing with different situations and sharing valuable solutions to problems faced on the legal complexities that have risen in your investigations of this phenomenon over the years, will only positively contribute to the strengthening of bonds of collaboration between our countries, upholding the rule of law and safeguarding the well-being of the immigrants themselves.

Furthermore, during this three-day meeting, you will have the opportunity to reflect on the successes and impact of the Euromed Justice Programme over the past four years in your regions but, more importantly, plan for the future. You will be given the opportunity to comment on, and contribute with your ideas, to the further development of the Program and ensure its future success.

I wish you all fruitful discussions and I am confident in the positive outcomes of the 18th CrimEx and 2nd EMJNet meeting, ensuring the success and continuation of the program in the years to come.