Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

EU border agency starts sea patrols

  • Boats transporting illegal immigrants are getting bigger, says Frontex (Photo: AFM)

The EU's border control agency – Frontex - is for the first time launching its own network of sea patrols to combat illegal immigration, saying its focus will be on the Spanish Canary Islands which alone saw at least 30,000 immigrants arriving by sea last year.

The creation of the European Patrols Network, a move decided by EU member states in December 2006 to reinforce the bloc's immigration policy, is the first attempt to jointly implement a system of monitoring the sea borders of the 27-member Union.

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"Daily patrolling operations of neighbouring states [to the EU] will be planned and executed in a synchronised way," Ilkka Laitinen, the head of the Warsaw-based agency said, according to Reuters.

He did not say how many patrols would be launched, but indicated the Canaries would be one of the priorities. The agency has previously helped organise joint EU patrols in the region.

Malta and Italy are facing similar problems with illegal immigrants arriving by sea from Africa – a dangerous trip that has claimed thousands of lives according to NGOs.

The patrols will be coordinated and implemented by the different countries with Frontex. "This will allow avoiding overlapping of patrols and the effective sharing of operational information," it said in a statement.

Patrols launched by Portugal and Spain will coordinate activities south of the Iberian peninsula, while Italy will work with Slovenia in the north Adriatic Sea, and with France in the northern Mediterranean.

"There is a huge task to accomplish to bring the national authorities together," said Mr Laitinen, according to AFP.

The EU has to better coordinate its efforts against illegal immigration, as organised crime rings are becoming more and more sophisticated and methodical in the way they smuggle people into Europe, the border agency said.

"Bigger cargo vessels, designed deliberately to transport illegal immigrants overseas, may use the route, which has become global," Mr Laitinen said.

The EU also decided last month to launch a rapidly deployable force of about 450 border guards to help states such as Spain cope with sudden influxes of illegal migrants. It should be fully operational by the end of the year.

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