Peter Altmaier, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Brigadier General Ilkka Laitinen, Executive Director of the European border management agency FRONTEX, and Lieutenant General Minze Beuving, chair of the FRONTEX Management Board, were briefed at Frankfurt Airport on an operation currently under way to combat illegal migration at the EU’s external borders. This year’s first FRONTEX operation concerning migration by air focuses on illegal migration from South America.
“As our risk analysis has shown, there is major migration by air from South America in conjunction with the misuse of visas and other travel documents, much of it destined for Spain and Portugal, but also involving other European airports,” FRONTEX Executive Director Laitinen explained.
In addition to Frankfurt Airport, the airports in Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Paris, Amsterdam, Milan and Rome are participating in this operation. Twenty-nine border police experts from seven European Member States are deployed at the eight airports. Seven border police officers from Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland are taking part as observers in this multilateral operation. All participating officers wear their country’s uniform during the operation.
The operation is being coordinated by the FRONTEX Operational Coordination Centre (F.O.C.C.) in Warsaw. The F.O.C.C. includes the agency’s own experts as well as national experts from Germany, Spain, Portugal and the UK.
Border police officers from European neighbouring states deployed to Germany have been given executive powers, which considerably enhances their effectiveness. Against this background, Parliamentary State Secretary Altmaier and Executive Director Laitinen underlined the importance of rapidly implementing the European regulation establishing a mechanism for the creation of rapid border intervention teams.
In addition to the planned rapid intervention teams, the new regulation for the first time provides for the possibility of granting guest officers executive powers under the supervision of the Member State hosting the operation. “This will allow border police officers in these teams to be deployed even more effectively than before. In Europe, only the German Federal Police currently has comparable provisions granting executive powers to guest officers. This proved extremely helpful during the 2006 FIFA World Cup,” Altmaier noted.
The EU Commission’s draft regulation is currently being discussed by the competent bodies. “One of the objectives of Germany’s Council Presidency is to achieve political consensus between the Parliament and the Council on the text of the regulation before the next meeting of home affairs ministers in April,” Altmaier said.
Laitinen provided an overview of the entire range of FRONTEX activities beyond the current operation. “There are four major routes for illegal migration to the EU: via the external sea borders to the south, the land borders to the east, via the Balkans and via major international airports,” Laitinen said. FRONTEX plays a coordinating role to assist and complement the Member States’ national border protection agencies. “Before starting an operation, we run through what we call operational phases.” The first step always involves having FRONTEX draw up a risk analysis to determine what is needed. This serves as the basis for an operational plan, which FRONTEX and the relevant Member States design together. A request for assistance is sent to other Member States. The concrete operational plan for all participating partners is drawn up using the Member States’ offers of assistance. “FRONTEX has a coordinating role, and our strength depends on the willingness of the Member States to take part in joint operations,” Laitinen said. FRONTEX has no operational equipment and supplies of its own for guarding and monitoring the EU borders.
“The centralized record of technical equipment is another important tool for strengthening FRONTEX,” Altmaier stated. This record lists technical equipment for the control and surveillance of external borders which Member States are willing to provide temporarily at the request of another Member State. “So far, we have received a considerable number of offers from the Member States, which is a good foundation. But we need more equipment and supplies and are hoping for further contributions from the Member States,” Laitinen said.
This need is particularly urgent in view of the anticipated rise in attempted migration this spring via the southern external borders. “Citizens expect Europe to provide effective protection for the common external borders. Implementing the centralized record of technical equipment not only strengthens the European border management agency FRONTEX, it also sends a clear signal that all the Member States are committed to working together at European level to combat illegal migration,” Altmaier stressed, noting Germany’s contribution: “The Federal Police has already registered four helicopters for land and sea surveillance, one boat for operations in the North and Baltic seas and ten portable thermal imaging cameras plus the necessary staff with the centralized FRONTEX record.”