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Brussels, 2 March 2011

Frontex and the RABIT operation at the Greek-Turkish border

Why is an EU Agency needed for border controls?

The primary responsibility for the control of external borders lies with the EU Member States. The very construction of Schengen means that one Member State controls its section of the external borders on behalf of all the others. Due to their geographical location, and the patterns of travel flows and migratory routes, Member States face different situations.

Based on the principle of solidarity, the EU needs to be able to provide support to Member States to compensate for these differences. Frontex was established to specifically coordinate and facilitate the task of border control bringing a European added value.

How does Frontex help EU countries deal with irregular immigration?

The EU External Borders Agency became fully operational on 3 October 2005 and is based in Warsaw (Poland). It is primarily responsible for coordinating operational cooperation between Member States (including joint operations and pilot projects in cooperation with Member States) and for maintaining a centralised record of technical equipment that Member States are ready to place at the disposal of other Member States.

Its other activities include developing a common integrated risk analysis model, establishing the common EU training standards for border guards and following developments in research relevant to control and surveillance of external borders.

How to enhance further the support to Member States?

The deployment of border control experts at the border between Greece and Turkey, as well as the recent launch of Joint Operation Hermes 2011 in Lampedusa further demonstrate the need for increased cooperation.

In February 2010 the Commission already made proposals to enhance the operational capacity of Frontex to support Member States (see IP/10/184 and MEMO/10/45). The aim is to ensure that Frontex can provide appropriate technical and human resources in the framework of joint border patrols. EU countries would have to ensure that a pool of equipment such as boats and planes are at the disposal of the Agency, which would also be able to acquire its own equipment.

The proposals include reinforcing the legal framework to ensure the full respect of fundamental rights during Frontex activities and enhancing the operational capacity of Frontex to support Member States in a spirit of solidarity. They also introduce an explicit requirement for all border guards taking part in operations to have been trained in fundamental rights.

Furthermore, with the amendments to the Frontex Regulation, the Agency would also be better equipped for operational cooperation with third countries, for instance by providing technical assistance in relation to building their own capacities for a more effective management of their respective borders and combating irregular immigration.

The amended Frontex Regulation is currently being discussed by the Council and the European Parliament.

What did the Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) achieve in Greece?

By letter dated 24 October 2010, Greece called for European solidarity and for further European assistance in the field of border operational cooperation. Greece requested the assistance of Rapid Border Intervention Teams indicating that despite its efforts and its ongoing collaboration with Frontex, it is facing an exceptional pressure due to the large number of persons crossing the border irregularly every day. The RABIT mechanism aims to provide rapid operational assistance for a limited period of time.

During the operational period – lasting from 2 November 2010 to 2 March 2011- every week close to 200 well-trained guest officers from 26 Member States assisted their Greek colleagues in controlling the border areas as well as in identifying the apprehended irregular immigrants. The operation has also helped the Greek authorities in gathering information on the migration routes and facilitator networks which exploit the desperate situation of irregular immigrants.

The deployment of the RABIT at the Greek-Turkish border has stabilised the situation and brought down the number of arrivals compared to the peaks in 2010. Since the RABIT operation was launched at the beginning of November 2010, a gradual decrease in the flow of irregular entries has been witnessed at the relevant border sections between Greece and Turkey. In October, prior to the operation, there were a total of 7 607 persons detected at the Greek-Turkish land border. In November, the operation reported a total of 4 616 detected entries and for the month of December, these detections had fallen further to 3 413. Subsequently, they decreased to 2 266 in January 2011 and to 1 632 in February 2011. Since the deployment of the RABIT operation, the numbers of irregular crossings have dropped by approximately 75 %. To put these figures into perspective, the total number of detected entries for the entire year of 2010, as reported by Greek authorities through the Frontex Risk Analysis Network, amounted to 47 706 detections.

What is the POSEIDON Land 2011 Joint Operation in Greece?

Frontex has been providing operational assistance to Greece at its external land and maritime borders through various operations since 2006. The RABIT operation built upon the then ongoing Poseidon Land 2010 joint operation by reinforcing the number of the guest officers and assets deployed along the borders. The Poseidon Land 2011 joint operation being launched right after the end of the RABIT operation will ensure continuity in effectively controlling the Greek-Turkish border, as well as in preventing irregular immigration in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It will be a permanent operation covering the remaining period of 2011. The geographical coverage of this operation will be extended to the external land borders between Bulgaria and Turkey.

Poseidon Sea 2010 was a permanent operation in which 26 Member States participated. It was carried out at the maritime borders at the Aegean Sea. The strengthened maritime controls had a strong deterrent effect (23,700 detections in 2009 - 6,600 detections in 2010 at the sea borders) but also resulted in a shift of the migratory routes to the land borders. The RABIT operation has addressed effectively this phenomenon.

Frontex also provided for assistance to Greece for capacity building in the field of return (Attica 2010). Via the general joint operation "Focal points at land borders", Greece also receives support through Frontex coordinated activities. The first specialised/regional branch of FRONTEX, called Frontex Operational Office, was launched as a pilot project on 1 October 2010 in Piraeus. It has been contributing to the preparation, implementation and evaluation of FRONTEX-coordinated joint operations in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

What about the cooperation with Turkey?

Cooperation with Turkey is of fundamental importance. Frontex has informed the competent Turkish authorities about the launch and the scope of the RABIT operations. Bilateral talks between Greece and Turkey on both political and operational level took place as well and there were promising signs that border control has been stepped up on the Turkish side of the border area. However, there is a clear possibility to further enhance the operational cooperation with Turkey.

More concretely, measures such as the setting up of contact points at both sides of the border, reinforced controls by the Turkish authorities within the territory and along the borders of Turkey, enhanced trans-national police cooperation in combating the criminal organisations dealing with the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings, and raising migrants' awareness on the risks lined to irregular migration could be implemented in the short term. This would have a concrete positive operational impact.

In the context of EU cooperation with Turkey in the field of migration management, the Commission welcomes the endorsement of the text of the readmission agreement expressed by the Justice and Home Affairs Council at its last meeting on 24-25 February 2011. The Commission now looks forward to having it initialled soon.

What else does the EU do to show solidarity with Greece?

The Commission provides Greece with financial assistance through the European Refugee Fund, the External Borders Fund and the Return Fund. The newly created European Asylum Support Office in Malta will soon be in a position to assist Member States confronted with difficult situations, such as in case of significant inflows of asylum seekers. On December 15 additional funds of a total of 9,8 million euro was allocated to Greece and experts have been deployed to help the country in implementing the Action plan to reform the asylum system (see IP/10/1719).

For more information on the 2008 proposal of the European Commission amending the current Dublin II Regulation (see IP/08/1875).

On the Greek action plan on asylum:

The humanitarian conditions for irregular migrants were and still remain very difficult, with overcrowded reception and detention centres and a lack of basic amenities for migrants, among which potential asylum-seekers.

In August 2010, Greece submitted to the Commission a National Action Plan on Asylum Reform and Migration Management which provides the basis for the identification and adoption of immediate, short- and long-term measures.

Important steps have since been taken towards the implementation of this Action Plan.

In November 2010 Greece adopted the new Asylum Presidential Decree to cover the transitional period which will, inter alia, assist in addressing the current backlog of asylum cases. A new law has also been adopted in January 2011 on the establishment of a new Asylum service to operate under the Ministry of Citizens' protection, the setting up of screening centres and the transposition of the Return Directive. It is now important that the implementation of the Action Plan is pursued in a persistent and coordinated manner by Greece.

Moreover, under the coordination and financial support of the Commission, teams of Member States experts in the area of asylum visited Greece in December 2010 to provide expertise on the registration and screening of international protection needs, the management of backlog of asylum cases and the provision of training.

The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) will contribute further to the support of Greece for the implementation of its Action Plan. The issue will remain a priority over the next few years

On the European Refugee Fund:

The European Refugee Fund is a tool supporting the efforts of Member States to apply fair and effective asylum procedures and to protect the rights of persons requiring international protection.

The support from the ERF to Greece for the period 2008-2011 is close to € 14 million, i.e. 4.16% of the total allocated for Member States. The bulk of these funds have been used to finance the reception and integration of asylum seekers and refugees.

In addition to the normal funding, in 2008 and 2009 Greece received a further € 2,2 million and € 4.9 million respectively in emergency funding under the ERF, in order to reinforce its reception capacities. In December 2010, an additional € 9.8 million from the ERF emergency funding were granted to Greece. The measures cover immediate and urgent needs related to provision of services concerning health care, food and social care, improvements of accommodation centres and construction of new ones, addressing the backlog of asylum applications and facilitation of the access to asylum procedures.

Concerning the period 2007-2011, Greece received 119 million from the External Borders Fund (i.e. 13.7% of the total for the Member States) and € 52 million from the Return Fund (16.9% of the total).

For more information

Homepage of Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs:

Homepage of DG Home:

Homepage of Frontex:

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