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24th Jul 2016

MEPs approve EU border surveillance system

  • The UN says over 30,000 migrants attempted to enter Italy by sea in 2013 (Photo: Paul Keller)

MEPs on Thursday (10 October) gave the green light to a new European Border Surveillance system, Eurosur, due to go live early in December.

The system is meant to co-ordinate border surveillance among member states through so-called national co-ordination centres.

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Each contact point would feed near-live data streams directly to the EU border agency, Frontex.

Frontex in turn would then issue alerts when necessary.

The European Commission says the system is needed to better inform national border control authorities of attempts by people to cross the Mediterranean.

Thousands are estimated to have died in recent years as they seek to come to Europe. Last year alone, over 1,500 are known to have perished or gone missing, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Last week, around 300 died a kilometre off the Italian island of Lampedusa when their boat caught fire and sunk.

Critics say the real purpose behind EU border surveillance plans is to stop the flow of irregular migrants and asylum seekers from ever reaching the coastlines in the first place. And that saving lives is secondary.

The current Eurosur text puts emphasis on preventing irregular migration but adds that it also should "contribute" to the protection and saving of lives at sea.

The Greens, who campaigned for a stronger emphasis on saving lives, say this is not enough.

“The clear purpose of Eurosur is fighting irregular migration,” German Green Ska Keller told this website on Wednesday (9 October).

She pointed out that the regulation says member states can obtain additional "capacities" to fight irregular migration but not to save lives.

“Co-operation only happens for fighting irregular migration, not for saving lives at sea,” she said.

The policy provides no requirement for member states to take proactive steps to improve the rescue of shipwrecked refugees.

She noted that the Mediterranean already ranks amongst the world’s most watched seas.

Keller says the EU needs to allow people to enter legally with a humanitarian visa in order to stop the trafficking and deaths.

“It’s astonishing that Europe still doesn’t have any legal ways for normal immigration, you only have the blue card for the highly qualified,” she noted.

The parliament’s lead negotiation on Eurosur, Dutch liberal Jan Mulder, called the Green’s amendments "superfluous."

“Nobody is against it [saving lives]. It is in several places in the text,” he told reporters in Strasbourg.

A clause added in the text will also allow non-Schengen members UK and Ireland to participate.

He noted that it would still be up to member states to carry out the rescue operations.

Other EU agencies like the European Maritime Safety Agency would also feed Frontex data on any suspicious activities, he said.

Such agencies, Frontex told EUobserver, already provide them with data feeds as a sort of moral obligation. A border control plane that spots a boat dumping oil into the sea, for instance, is not mandated to alert it but will.

Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Finland will start using Eurosur on 2 December 2013.

Other member states will follow suit on 1 December 2014.

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