Tuesday

6th Dec 2016

EU border surveillance system not helping to save lives

  • Around €21.5 million of Frontex's total budget of €89 million is used to support sea-border operations (Photo: Frontex)

Launched in December to help prevent boat migrants from drowning, the EU’s border surveillance system, Eurosur, has yet to deliver amid a sharp increase in the number of sea-crossing attempts.

“Unfortunately for the time-being, it [Eurosur] does not fulfil this service,” said Gil Aria Fernandez, deputy director at the EU’s border agency Frontex, in Brussels on Wednesday (14 May).

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The Warsaw-based agency is tasked with analysing the “European situational picture” - information collected and inserted into the system by member states.

Eurosur is also set to accept satellite images in the near future, but will not offer any additional help when it comes to rescue missions, said Fernandez.

“This would not be even useful for preventing tragedies because the satellite images will be available to the border authorities hours or even days after,” he said.

42,000 unlawful EU border crossings detected

Data collected by the border agency noted detections in the first four months of 2014, in terms of unauthorised crossing attempts along the EU’s external border, have shot up three-fold when compared to the same period last year.

Fernandez described the increase as “drastic”. Some 42,000 detections were made from January to April.

Most happened out at sea (around 25,000) in the Mediterranean, with Italy’s naval brigade Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) reporting the majority of detections.

Fernandez, who deplored the recent the boat tragedies off the southern Italian coast, said border control is not a solution.

“Improving the situation to prevent causalities, to prevent people from sinking and drowning in the sea, will not be possible by border control, this is obvious,” he said.

Seventeen people perished off the southern Italian coastline on Monday. The day before that, another 40 drowned off the Libyan coast.

Fernandez said it was highly unlikely Eurosur was involved in either case. Instead, national authorities are pressing ahead with their own operations.

Italy and Spain upset

For Italy, this means Mare Nostrum, which has reportedly intercepted around 36,000 migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean over the past few months.

But Italian authorities complain they do not receive enough support from the EU. Italy’s interior minister Angelino Alfano on Tuesday threatened to release the migrants it intercepts to seek asylum in other member states in defiance of EU rules.

More than half of all asylum applications in Europe are already submitted to German and Swedish authorities. Germany alone accounts for 41 percent of all requests.

Frontex, for its part, is not involved with the Italian-led sea sweeps but works with them in two joint-operations in the south of Sicily and along the coastlines of Calabria and Puglia.

Spain had also in early March requested emergency EU funding, but the European Commission says it is still analysing the request.

Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s two north-African enclaves, have seen a 208 percent increase in the number people attempting to scale the fences from the Moroccan side.

Around 730 attempted to enter the enclaves in the first four months of 2013, compared to over 2,200 during the same period this year, according to Frontex.

Fernandez blamed the sharp increase on Morocco after Rabat stepped up coastal border controls, diverting the flows to the enclaves.

The European Commission, for its part, notes that the bulk of the migrants are fleeing conflicts and most likely qualify for international protection.

“They are the most vulnerable individuals in the most difficult of positions, unfortunately they are also vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers,” said EU home affairs spokesperson Michele Cercone.

Migrants fleeing conflict

Frontex data confirms the commission assessment.

Around 7,400 Syrians were detected trying to get into the EU via the Aegean sea, the land border with Turkey, and Libya in this year alone.

The number of Eritreans has also shot up, due in part, to toughened Israeli immigration laws enacted earlier this year.

“This country [Israel] that used to the preferred option for Eritrean migrants is not now anymore possible for them,” said Fernandez.

Israel’s new rules means other Horn of Africa nationals like Somalis and Ethiopians are likely to see the EU as a better alternative, he noted.

Most who attempt the sea crossings start from areas near and around Libya’s capital Tripoli.

Syrian refugees and African migrants are drawn to the troubled nation, wrecked by internal power struggles, because it offers the shortest distance to Italian waters.

People inside the country have told Frontex that a large number of migrants and refugees are stranded.

Increased instability in Libya is likely to force many to seek any opportunity to leave for the EU.

Libya’s interim minister of internal affairs threatened to send all its stranded migrants over unless the EU offers up cash.

“If this threat were to become a reality, the situation would obviously worsen,” said Fernandez.

The agency has no contact with the Libyan authorities.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election
  2. CESICESI Congress Focuses on Future of Work, Public Services and Digitalisation
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAustrian Association for Betting and Gambling Joins EGBA
  4. ACCAWomen of Europe Awards: Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  5. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  6. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  7. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  8. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  9. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  10. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Transport and Mobility in Rome
  11. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  12. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)

Latest News

  1. Brexit deal must be done by October 2018, says EU negotiator
  2. Rising to the challenge of 'European Angst'
  3. Polish firm sues EU Commission over Gazprom privileges
  4. ID and police checks await all who enter and leave the EU
  5. Italy's Renzi to stay on to pass budget
  6. Dutch anti-Ukraine vote spawns 'app democracy' party
  7. EU agrees on debt measures for Greece
  8. EU scrambles to finalise gun-control reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  2. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World
  3. Swedish EnterprisesNew Rules for EU Anti-dumping Measures
  4. European Jewish CongressTakes Part in Building Resilient Communities
  5. UNICEFUniversal Children’s Day: UNICEF Calls for Global Action on Child Rights Violations
  6. Counter BalanceThe EU Bank Cannot be a Key Player in Europe's Response to the Plight of Refugees
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEvidence of Human Rights Violations and International Crimes in Crimea
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Failed Military Coup in Turkey & The Mass Purges
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Climate Solutions at COP22 in Marrakech
  10. Counter BalanceNGOs Call on Development Finance Institutions to Act Against Tax Avoidance
  11. European Free AllianceTrump Victory and Brexit Show Urgent Need of Improving Democracy
  12. Martens CentreOur Transatlantic 9-11: Europe After Trump