Brussels, 30 November 2006
The Commission issues a Communication "Reinforcing the management of the Southern Maritime External Borders." This identifies practical solutions and seeks to respond to the need to reinforce the management of the southern maritime external borders and improve the capacity of the Community and its Member States to deal with critical situations, such as the mass influx of illegal immigrants. However, operational activities designed to fight illegal immigration, protect refugees, and ensure a uniform application of the Schengen acquis on external borders cannot stand alone: the Communication should therefore be read in the wider context of the global approach to migration, where all aspects related to migration management are included.
Reinforcing the management of the southern external maritime borders is essential to further develop a European model for integrated border management, based on the principles of burden-sharing, mutual trust and co-responsibility among Member States, which is founded on full respect for human rights.
In the last two years the pressure of illegal migration on the Member States of the European Union situated in the Mediterranean region has reached an unprecedented high. This requires immediate action at both national and European levels, in order to safeguard the Schengen system and prevent the further tragedy of illegal migrants who die in large numbers attempting to reach the shores of the European Union.
Statistics on numbers of arrivals in Spain (Canary Islands), Italy and Malta during 2006 compared with 2005. The figures given below have been obtained in connection with operations HERA II and NAUITLUS and are the latest available. Figures for Greece and Cyprus are not available.
[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]
There is a clear need to cooperate with North African and Middle Eastern transit countries to deal with the issue of illegal migrants, but it seems clear that the required levels of operational and political cooperation with those countries is a long-term goal. It is therefore necessary for the European Union to adopt a two-pronged approach: Firstly identifying a set of complementary measures, including operational and policy measures to fight illegal immigration, protect refugees and reinforce control and surveillance of the external maritime border which can be implemented immediately, and secondly developing a sustainable political framework for the fight against illegal immigration to be agreed with the countries of origin and transit on the African continent.
The Communication focuses on the first part of this approach, setting out the Commission's main recommendations designed to improve the management of the southern maritime external borders.
Reinforcing the management of the southern maritime external borders
The European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (FRONTEX) can play a crucial role in providing support and coordination to strengthen the management of operational cooperation at the external borders, while bearing in mind that the responsibility for control and surveillance of the external borders remains with the Member States.
FRONTEX, together with Member States, should take the necessary steps to activate provisions which allow for the pooling of technical equipment under FRONTEX management.
The operations coordinated and managed by FRONTEX, which have already taken place, notably HERA II and NAUTILUS, will be evaluated by the Agency in view to improve the efficiency of future operational activities of this type, thus taking into account lessons learnt.
Risk analysis is at the very heart of operational cooperation at the external borders and is one of the key tasks of FRONTEX. In order to effectively carry out this task, the Agency must have access to all relevant information sources. Therefore, the Commission proposes to give FRONTEX access to the information gathered by the Immigration Liaison Officers' Network on a systematic basis.
As far as joint operations are concerned, FRONTEX should look into the feasibility of continuously carrying out control and surveillance operations at the southern maritime external borders in particular during from spring till late autumn 2007, thus covering the season when most illegal immigrants attempt to come by boat to the European Union from Africa. Apart from leading to the interception of more boats with illegal immigrants on board and saving lives at sea, continuous operational activities will also act as a deterrent, thereby easing the pressure on this part of the external borders and preventing potentially critical situations from escalating to the levels registered this year. It is also necessary to step up controls at, and surveillance of, other parts of the Union's external borders. Experience shows that the constant pressure of illegal immigration will lead to displacement effects along the external borders: as soon as one illegal immigration route has been closed down, the smuggling networks will attempt to open new routes or use other methods and techniques.
The Communication identifies a number of new tools for the next generation of integrated border management:
The feasibility study entitled "MEDSEA" presented by FRONTEX on 14 July 2006 points to the need for a permanent Coastal Patrol Network for the southern maritime external borders. The Commission believes that this patrol network would have a real added value, making it possible for Member States to coordinate their patrol schedules, pool their resources and exchange strategic and tactical information in real time. The network should be established as soon as possible and managed by FRONTEX together with the Member States of the region. It could also be seen as a possible forerunner to a fully fledged European Coast Guard Service. The feasibility of establishing such a service is currently under examination by the Commission in a wider context, (see the Green Paper on a future Maritime Policy adopted by the Commission on 6 June 2006.)
To improve further the surveillance of the southern maritime external borders a common European Surveillance System for Borders (EUROSUR) should be created. EUROSUR could in the first stage focus on synergies created by linking the existing national surveillance systems currently in use at the southern maritime external borders. In the second stage, however, it should gradually replace national surveillance systems at land and maritime borders, providing a cost-efficient solution, including e. g. a combination of radar and satellite surveillance at European level.
As irregular maritime immigration at the European Union's southern maritime external borders is a mixed phenomenon: there are both illegal immigrants with no particular protection needs and refugees in need of international protection. Therefore the response of the Union must be targeted accordingly. Asylum must be an important feature of the response, and an effective option for persons requiring international protection. To this end, it is necessary to ensure coherent and effective application of the Member States' protection obligations in the context of measures relating to the interception and rescue at sea of persons who may be in need of international protection, as well as the prompt identification of persons with protection needs at reception sites. As regards operational implementation of the international law of the sea, several issues merit further elaboration and clarification: a) the extent of the States' protection obligations flowing from the respect of the principle of non-refoulement, in the many different situations where State vessels implement interception or search and rescue measures; b) the determination of the most appropriate port for disembarkation following rescue at sea or interception, and the closely related issue of the allocation of protection responsibilities between States taking part in interception and search and rescue operations for intercepted or rescued people seeking international protection; c) a more accurate determination of the correct modus operandi for the purpose of intercepting vessels carrying, or suspected of carrying, illegal immigrants bound for the European Union.
An efficient and rapid use of the new External Borders Fund will be essential for the implementation of the proposed measures. This Fund foresees, subject to the final decision by the budgetary authority, a total of 1.82 billion € for the period 2007-2013, of which about 170 M € will be available in 2007 (to be confirmed by final adoption of the 2007 budget). The total budget of FRONTEX for 2007, taking into account the amendments of the European Parliament, will be 33,98 M€ (amount to be confirmed by final adoption of the 2007 budget).
Against the background of the preliminary draft budget for 2007, the European Parliament approved a preparatory action in 2007 for "Migration management / solidarity in action" aiming at assisting Member States in coping with the reception of irregular migrants arriving by sea. The budget allocated to this action together with return projects and information on conditions of immigration into the EU is 15 M€ (amount to be confirmed by the final adoption of the 2007 budget).
Also in the ERF III, a mechanism will be provided allowing Member States facing particular pressure situations to have rapid and easy access to emergency financial assistance from the Fund. Activities such as those that the pool of asylum expert teams will be called to perform fall within the scope of the actions eligible for such financial support.