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First the virus, then corruption, warns OSCE

May 17, 2020

Emergency funding issued to help the economic fallout of the pandemic is likely to fuel corruption across Europe, warns the OSCE security bloc. It said criminals would find ways to fraudulently apply for aid.

A man puts a large number of dollar bills in his blazer pocket
Image: Colourbox/O. Artem

Pandemic-hit nations in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) 57-member bloc will be further overwhelmed by corruption in coming months, Thomas Greminger told Austria's APA news agency Sunday.

"We suspect that in the coming months we will witness a lot more corruption," said the Swiss diplomat and secretary-general of the Vienna-based, security-focused body.

"The criminals adapt rapidly to systemic weaknesses induced by the COVID-19 crisis," said Greminger, adding that people smuggling was also likely to increase.

Border controls reintroduced since March in the 26-nation Schengen zone — an area of free movement  — had overwhelmed many authorities and diverted resources, he said. He said he was convinced that criminals would exploit that resources are being diverted from other areas.

The Schengen zone, which includes 26 European nations and and over 419 million inhabitants, is the world's largest visa-free zone. Pre-pandemic it handled an estimated 1.25 billion trips annually.

Greminger also lamented that the coronavirus crisis was "strengthening very nationalistic instincts, solo initiatives and unilateral isolationist approaches"  and expressed his concern that the pandemic would cause the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine to be sidelined.

The OSCE is the world's largest regional security organization. It focuses on fostering peace, democracy and stability through political cooperation. It also serves as an important dialogue partner between Russia and NATO nations.

Read more: Despite record coronavirus aid, millions still slip through the net

Smuggling routes rejigged

Last Thursday, Europol warned that criminals were rearranging people smuggling routes and "finding new ways to lure potential victims."

Smugglers facing enhanced border checks had switched from aviation to "land and sea routes," Europol said, citing the use of small boats to cross river borders, concealments in freight vehicles and cargo trains.

To also tackle increases in fraudulently obtained visas and sexual exploitation, Europol's Executive Director Catherine De Bolle stressed "the great advantage of shared intelligence to target these types of international organized crime."

Read more: Italian police nab 91 mafia suspects in 'mega-raid'

'Care for marginalized'

Already in March, the OSCE's High Commissioner for National Minorities, Lamberto Zannier had urged member states in their "rush to introduce emergency measures" to also focus on "guest workers, informal laborers and persons belonging to marginalized communities." 

"If specific groups indicate that their needs have not been met, adjust the measures to include them. This principle is also relevant for the recovery phase," Zannier said, stressing the need to maintain "social cohesion."

Zannier warned that "deeply rooted anxieties can rise to the surface" during crises such as pandemics and urged states contemplating surveillance technologies to track Covid-19's spread to "not target any groups disproportionally."

ipj/mm (dpa, APA) 

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