Europe seeks closer cooperation on border security


Europe is keen to step up border security cooperation with Africa. That was the message to defenceWeb’s Border Control Africa conference from Klaus Rsler, Director of Operations at Frontex, the European Union agency charged with coordinating the community’s border security effort.

The agency, based in Warsaw, Poland, was created in 2005 as a specialised and independent body tasked to coordinate the operational cooperation between EU member states and complement national border management systems.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) figures reported in July 2007 had about 4.6 million African migrants living in Europe. In addition, the Migration Policy Institute believed at the time there were between seven and eight million more African immigrants living irregularly in the EU. The BBC reported about two-thirds of Africans in Europe were from North Africa (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia).

But an increasing number were travelling from Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly heading for the former colonial powers of France, Germany, Italy and the UK. Most Sub-Saharan migrants were from West Africa – Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal, in particular. About 22 000 people reached Italy by boat in 2006 and 37 000 in 2007, but sea crossings are not without their dangers – it is thought hundreds die attempting to reach Europe. More than 200 drowned in a single incident in April last year alone and 73 in a tragedy in September.

Many had paid human traffickers and smugglers up to several thousand euros each to undertake the dangerous trip. United Nations figures suggest a trip from Africa to the Canary Islands cost €1000-1500, a voyage from North Morocco to Spain €1000 and from Libya to Italy €1500-2000. This is after paying €1000-3400 to cross or skirt the Sahara.

Much of the smuggling from Africa runs from Tunisia and Libya to the Italian coast or its offshore islands, including Sicily, Panteleria and Lampedusa. Other smuggling routes run from Algeria and Morocco to mainland Spain while others target the Spanish African enclaves of Ceuta and Melila. Further routes target Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic islands, notably the Canaries, Azores and Madeira.

Rsler noted 2008 was a high point in illegal migration, with 90 000 illegal migrants detected in roughly equal numbers in the eastern and central Mediterranean as well as eastern Atlantic. The figure fell to about 50 000 in 2009, mostly east Africans and Asians entering Greece from Turkey.

Reasons for the fall-off included the 2009 global recession, as well as measures taken by some departure states, such as Mauritania and Senegal, often with some support from EU states such as Spain. The problem remains…

Frontex considers securing better cooperation and coordination in fighting human trafficking from the Mediterranean and west coasts of Africa to the EU as a priority. Frontex in its coordinating mandate is concentrating on the fight against illegal migration, cross-border crime related to illegal migration, in particular the trafficking in human beings, Rsler says.

Africa has some countries of origin or transit for illegal migration or exploitation of such persons. So we seek to establish cooperation in order to exchange information on the migration situation and the situational picture [and] to explore possibilities of a further gradual development of border security measures and return activities [repatriation]. The latter includes facilitating access to an EU fund that promotes voluntary return to countries of origin.

Turning to training, Rsler said its current mandate did not allow Frontex to offer training to third countries. What we are doing is to invite third country participants in our training activities,for example analytical training, or forged document training. This so far is not extended to Africa as we do not have working arrangements. Based on the action plan for a working arrangement we could think about concrete forms of cooperation.

The second thing is that our mandate has to be amended to give us the ability to be more proactive in the provision of training for third countries. If this is the case in future, then we can think of coordinating training for the benefit of third countries.

Pic: The border between the Spanish African enclave of Ceuta and northern Morocco.