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Reinforcing the management of the EU's southern maritime borders
This Communication sets out operational measures designed to combat illegal immigration, protect refugees and set up controls at, and surveillance of, the EU's external maritime borders. It proposes maximising the capacity of FRONTEX, establishing a Coastal Patrol Network, developing a European surveillance system, setting up expert teams to carry out an initial assessment of each person intercepted and maximising the use of Community financial resources.
Communication from the Commission: Reinforcing the management of the European Union's maritime borders [COM(2006) 733 final - Not published in the Official Journal]
This Communication sets out the Commission's main recommendations to improve the management of the southern maritime external borders.
Maximising the capacity of FRONTEX
The Commission recommends that:
- Regulation (EC) No 377/2004 on the creation of the Immigration Liaison Officers' Network be amended to give FRONTEX access to the information gathered by liaison officers on a systematic basis and to allow for the participation of FRONTEX in their meetings;
- the Member States be encouraged to pool technical equipment; FRONTEX should report on a regular basis to the Council and the Commission on achievements in this area.
It also proposes that FRONTEX:
- examine the possibility of continuous joint control and surveillance operations at the external southern maritime borders, in particular during the period from spring till late autumn 2007, taking into account the risks linked to the re-routing of flows;
- establish at its headquarters the facilities necessary for real-time coordination between Member States;
- draw up a working arrangement with relevant international organisations, such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
A Coastal Patrol Network
The Commission recommends that:
- a permanent coastal patrol network be set up at the external southern maritime frontiers, as suggested by the "MEDSEA" feasibility study presented by FRONTEX on 14 July 2006;
- the management network be entrusted to FRONTEX and it be asked to consider the possibility of setting up several regional command centres at the southern maritime external borders; the main role of these centres (each one covering a specific area: the Canary Islands, the western, central and eastern Mediterranean Sea) would be to carry out daily patrols, but they might also be required to take part in join maritime operations;
- FRONTEX consider setting up a specialised branch for maritime borders in the region responsible for managing the regional command centres.
A European surveillance system
The Commission suggests that a European Surveillance System for Borders (EUROSUR) be created. EUROSUR could, as a first step, link up the existing national surveillance systems currently in use at the southern maritime external borders. It would then gradually replace the national surveillance systems at land and maritime borders.
Improving the capacity to deal with mixed flows
The Commission proposes that a pool of experts from Member States' administrations be made available for deployment at short notice to carry out an initial assessment of individual cases at points of arrival, in particular regarding the state of health of immigrants and the identification of persons who may need international protection or who may be returned to their countries of origin or transit. The asylum expert teams that would be established from this pool would assist the requesting Member State on a temporary basis in performing this initial profiling through the provision, in particular, of interpretation services and advice on case handling. They might, if necessary, include officials of relevant international organisations such as the UNHCR.
In the short term, the Commission encourages Member States as well as international organisations to make use of relevant Community funding instruments to launch these teams on a project basis. It proposes that continued thought be given to the role which a possible European support office for all forms of cooperation between Member States relating to the Common European Asylum System might play in the setting up of such teams.
The operational implementation of the international law of the sea
The Commission will publish a study on the international law of the sea analysing the gaps in the international legal framework and identifying the issues that could be further explored. It proposes that:
- the correct modus operandi for intercepting vessels carrying, or suspected of carrying, illegal immigrants bound for the European Union be more accurately determined; regional agreements could define the right of surveillance and interception of vessels in the territorial waters of relevant countries of origin and transit, smoothing the way for the implementation of joint operations by FRONTEX;
- the extent of the Member States' protection obligations flowing from the respect of the principle of non-refoulement in the many different situations where their vessels implement interception or search and rescue measures be examined. It proposes that practical instructions be drawn up to determine the circumstances under which a Member State may be obliged to assume responsibility for the examination of an asylum claim when engaged in joint operations or in operations taking place within the territorial waters of another Member State or on the high seas.
It also stresses the importance of the ratification by the Member States and the African states of the Palermo Protocol against the smuggling of migrants by land, sea and air.
Maximising the use of European Community financial means
The budget of the FRONTEX Agency (EUR 33.98 million earmarked for 2007) will be used to finance joint operations and pilot projects with Member States at the external frontiers, including the establishment of a Coastal Patrol Network, regional command centres and a specialised branch for maritime borders in the region.
The Commission takes the view that an efficient and rapid use of the resources to be provided by the new External Borders Fund (1.82 billion for the period 2007-2013, of which 170 million will be available in 2007) will be essential for the implementation of the measures envisaged. Moreover, a yearly reserve of 10 million will be set aside to allow for the financing of actions by the individual Member States to address weaknesses at strategic border points, as identified by the FRONTEX by means of risk analysis.
With a view to the longer term, in its 7th Framework Programme for research and technological development, the Commission foresees research for improved capabilities in the implementation of an integrated border management system.
Against the background of the preliminary draft budget for 2007, the European Parliament approved a preparatory action in 2007 (15 million, to be confirmed) for "Migration management/solidarity in action" to assist Member States in coping with the influx of illegal immigrants arriving by sea.
Community activities financed by the European Refugee Fund (ERF) may cover the cost of projects relating to the setting-up teams of asylum experts. In addition, ERF III will provide a mechanism allowing Member States facing particular pressure situations to have rapid and easy access to emergency financial assistance from the Fund.
In the last two years, the pressure of illegal immigration faced by Member States has grown. The Communication was drawn up in response to the Council's request of 5 October 2006 and is geared towards the first part of a two-pronged approach. Initially, operational measures are set out which are designed to combat illegal immigration, protect refugees and set up controls at, and surveillance of, the EU's external maritime borders. The second part continues and strengthens the dialogue and cooperation with third countries on these operational measures in the context of the Association Agreements, the ENP Action Plans and the Cotonou Agreement.