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19-09-2023 17:44

Welcome speech by the Attorney-General of the Republic, George L. Savvides, at the 18th CrimEx and 2nd EMJNet meeting, in Cyprus

I welcome the CrimEx and EMJ-Net members representing national judicial authorities– justice ministries, prosecutors’ offices and judiciary– who worked and are working continuously to ensure the continuity and the progress of the EuroMed Justice Process.

Indeed, it is an honour and a privilege for the Law Office of the Republic of Cyprus, together with the Ministry of Justice and Public Order, to host the 18th CrimEx and 2nd EMJ-Net meeting of the Euromed Justice Program, here in Cyprus. At this point, I would like to express my gratitude to the Euromed Justice Programme Team for organising this event here in Larnaka.

Over the years, crime has undergone a profound evolution, transitioning from primarily, national concerns to intricate webs of international challenges. Historically, crimes were largely confined within the borders of individual countries, governed by their respective legal systems. However, the forces of globalisation, technological advancement and increased mobility have erased these boundaries. Organised Criminal Groups now operate across borders with ease, taking advantage of the gaps in international law enforcement. The need for cooperation and the creation of synergies between law enforcement, judicial and prosecutorial authorities from different states, on a European, International and cross border level is of great importance in order to achieve our common goal, which is to bring criminals to Justice successfully.

The European Union, realising the need to create strong partnerships with countries outside its borders, in 2020 implemented the Euromed Justice Programme, hosted at Eurojust, with the aim to combat the emerging transnational criminal activities and bring perpetrators to Justice.

Since its establishment, EuroMed Justice is bringing together the most relevant stakeholders in the field of Criminal Justice, including representatives from the South Partner Countries, Eurojust, the European Judicial Network, EU member states and other relevant EU and international organisations, active in the Judicial and Law enforcement sector.

Protecting the EU neighbouring countries’ citizens against criminal activities, respecting the rule of law and fundamental human rights are the main aims of the programme.

One of the topics on today’s agenda concerns the matter of countering the smuggling of migrants in the Mediterranean region. The smuggling of migrants, especially in the Mediterranean region, has been a pressing issue for many years now. As a crime type, smuggling of migrants has been a top priority for EU Law and policy makers and one of the most complex issues to handle, due to legal and humanitarian challenges.

The recent unfolding situation in Lampedusa, Italy, led the European Commission to set of immediate actions to be exercised to tackle the issue and support, among others, the prevention of departures by establishing operational partnerships on anti-smuggling with countries of origin and transit, which shows the need of close cooperation between all those involved.

The Mediterranean region has long been a hotspot for illegal immigration due to its geographical proximity to Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe. Migrants often risk perilous journeys across the sea, into the European Union, based on the promises of members of Organised Criminal Groups for a better life filled with opportunities, safety and stability. In recent years, the Mediterranean has witnessed many tragic incidents involving migrant boats capsizing, leading to tragic loss of life.

Due to its geographical position, and its proximity to Asia, Africa and Southern Europe, Cyprus is a tempting destination and has become a popular country for illegal immigration and it is seen as an easy entry way or passage of immigrants into the EU.

As you know, 37% of the northern territory of Cyprus is under Turkish occupation, which makes it impossible for Cypriot authorities to exercise control over its maritime/external borders located in the occupied regions. Our country remains illegally divided by a 180-kilometre-long ceasefire line, known as the “green line”, a situation that creates unique conditions for the development of illegal immigration.

The overwhelming majority of irregular migrants come from various areas of the Middle East and North Africa, and they arrive in the occupied areas of Cyprus after entering Turkey legally and then into the Cyprus occupied areas. Then, they are smuggled into the controlled areas of the Republic of Cyprus through the cease fire line. Upon entering these areas, the migrants, as instructed by the organised criminal groups, and as evidenced by the witness statements, seek asylum.

Over the past 5 years, Cyprus has consistently been the Member State of the European Union with the highest number of first-time applications for international protection per capita in the EU. The high numbers of illegal immigration create various obstacles in the efforts of the Cypriot Law enforcement and Judicial Authorities to investigate cases and bring perpetrators to justice, but also, at the same time safeguard the rights of the victims of illegal immigration, namely the migrants themselves. Nevertheless, many of the challenges and obstacles faced by the Cypriot authorities are also challenges faced by authorities of various other Mediterranean and EU countries in their fight against migrant smuggling. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that, in order to address these challenges, a coordinated and cooperative approach from all stakeholders involved in the region is required.

Countering the challenges posed by the phenomenon of illegal immigration in the Mediterranean region at a regional level and at EU level is crucial and the subject will be addressed during the meeting today, from a practical perspective. Colleagues from EU Member States and South Partner Countries, you will share experiences, good practices and identify possible solutions to work together to combat migrant smuggling and bring perpetrators to justice.

During this meeting, you will have the opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the Euromed Justice Programme in the last four years, discuss on the progresses made and present proposals for new outputs to be developed in the next years and continue the implementation of the Strategy of the Euromed Justice Programme.

Via the Euromed Justice Programme we are indeed presented with a unique opportunity. The opportunity to create and, more importantly, maintain a network of practitioners and professionals in the Criminal Justice Systems, of all Nations participating in the Programme. We are given the chance to create relationships based on our common legal background and experiences, but also on the personal interactions and creation of relationships of trust amongst us.  These relationships of trust amongst the delegates will ensure the continued success of the Euromed Justice Programme in the years to come. Success of the Euromed Justice Programme is a triumph for justice and the rule of law.

Let me close by expressing my confidence in the positive outcome of the 18th CrimEx and 2nd EMJNet meeting and the continuation of the cooperation process in the years to come, having EuroMed Justice as a bridge between EU - South Partner Countries. This is why, I believe, that the EuroMed Justice program has plenty to offer in creating such co-operations and synergies between EU member states and South Partner Countries that will be of great assistance and will have a catalytic affect in the fight against organized crime in the Mediterranean region.

Lastly, before closing, please allow me to convey my deepest condolences to the victims of the tragedies and their families due to the earthquake in Morocco and the most recent floods in Libya and Greece that led to massive loss of lives, and wish the survivors speedy recovery.

I wish you every success in the deliberations of your meeting.

Thank you for your time.