EU urges China to curb dinghy sales in migrant trafficking fight

Thousands of migrants have died trying to make the journey to Europe in flimsy boats

A senior EU envoy on Thursday urged Beijing to restrict the sale of inflatable dinghies that he said are used by trafficking gangs to carry migrants on treacherous sea journeys to Europe.

About 1.4 million refugees and migrants have made their way to Europe since 2015, many fleeing Syria's bloody civil war, in the biggest wave of migration the continent has seen since World War II.

Thousands have died, often while attempting to cross the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas in flimsy rubber boats.

"China can help and support the EU in its fight against migrant smugglers," Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said at a press conference after meeting with China's public-security minister, Guo Shengkun.

"The rubber boats used by smuggler networks in the Mediterranean are fabricated somewhere in China," he said, adding that after export the dinghies were falling into the hands of smuggling networks.

Traffickers have been packing increasing numbers of people onto the boats and setting them adrift at sea.

Last year Italian coastguard vessels recovered more than a thousand such crafts, each with an average of 122 passengers.

So far this year, over 1,000 migrants are thought to have died in waters between Libya and Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration, while nearly 37,000 have been rescued and brought to Italy.

Avramopoulos said he had begun talks with China aimed at helping to fight the smuggling networks.

"I requested the support of the Chinese authorities in order to track down this business and dismantle it, because what they produce is not serving the common good. It is a very dangerous tool in the hands of thugs," he said.

Brussels and Beijing are also looking to cooperate on cybersecurity, anti-terrorism measures, organised crime, money-laundering and drug trafficking, Avramopoulos added.