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25th Jan 2021

Commissioner backs EU 'border guard corps'

  • Two thirds of migrant casualties are never identifed (Photo: Sozialfotografie)

The European Commission says countries should cede control of the bloc’s external borders to a new EU agency, amid a wider “war” on smugglers.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, its migration chief, backed the guards initiative in a speech in Warsaw on Friday (21 May).

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“One of the issues that we will explore is the possible creation of a European System of Border Guards. I won’t hide my personal feeling. I support this idea”, he said.

The commission, last year, already did a feasibility study.

The proposal is to see member states’ border guard corps pooled under the command of a new, EU-level agency. The bloc’s existing border control agency, the Warsaw-based Frontex, where Avramopoulos spoke, is to give intelligence-gathering and logistical support.

The project is to be discussed by home affairs ministers and by EU leaders in Brussels in June.

But an EU official said it's a “long-term” idea. Prior estimates of a potential start date were 2030 or 2035.

Asked if member states are ready, in political terms, to surrender control of borders, the EU official added: “There are still lots of ifs, buts, and maybes … Mr Avramopoulos made the comments today because this is the direction we should be moving in”.

’Quotas’

The commissioner also defended a proposal, out last week, to redistribute asylum seekers based on EU states' wealth and unemployment rates.

“No member state should be left alone to bear the responsibility for the whole of Europe. This is a … fundamental principle”, he said in Warsaw.

Avramopoulos complained that some media and politicians seized on the word “quota” even though it was never used in official commission texts.

“What we said, and clarified immediately, is that we have to adopt fairer … burden-sharing”.

The commission will, next Wednesday, put out a legal blueprint.

It’ll say frontline states should identify which migrants are most likely to get asylum, for instance, because they come from war zones. The most needy will then be redistributed on the wealth-based calculus.

It’s to be a temporary measure designed to help Greece and Italy overcome a recent surge in arrivals.

Later in the year, the commission will also propose a new "emergency mechanism" to meet future migration crises, whether in arising in the Mediterranean, in the Western Balkans, or Ukraine.

War

Avramopoulos, a Greek former defence minister, used strident terms to praise the EU’s new military operation, EUnavfor Med, which is to start sinking migrant-smugglers’ boats in July if it gets UN and Libyan permission.

“Europe has declared a war against smugglers”, he said.

He noted that Frontex will create “profiles” of the type of vessels being used “in order to improve their detection”.

He also said Frontex' “mandate must be reinforced” so it can physically help EU countries deport failed asylum claimants.

“Frontex is going to become one of the most important EU institutions”, he added.

The “war” already has casualties.

Estimates of the death toll are much higher and there was a spike in 2014 and 2015.

But a recent study by VU University Amsterdam said authorities in Gibraltar, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain registered 3,188 victims between 1990 and 2013.

Most of them are African men aged 22 to 29 who drowned, either in the Mediterranean or in the Evros river in Greece.

Two thirds were never identified.

The study shows that when EU states increase security, for instance, by launching a Frontex operation in Greece, migrants use harder routes and rely more on smugglers.

Commenting on EUnavfor Med, the study's author, Thomas Spijkerboer, said: “There is a considerable risk that, by making migration more difficult, migrants become even more dependent on smugglers who resort to boats of ever worse quality”.

“European policies may boost the market for smugglers and put more lives at risk”.

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