EU proposes border force to tackle migrant crisis

10:18 am on 16 December 2015

Controversial plans for an European Union Border and Coast Guard force have been set out as part of a drive to curb the record influx of migrants.

Migrants and refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on 18 November 2015.

Migrants and refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on 18 November 2015. Photo: AFP

The European Commission, the EU's executive body was proposing a force with a stronger mandate than the EU's current Frontex border teams.

But some governments saw the powers as violating national sovereignty.

The commission was also proposing to resettle Syrian refugees directly from camps in Turkey to try to stop people taking the dangerous voyage by sea.

The new proposals followed the reintroduction of border controls by some countries within the EU's internal borderless Schengen area - including Germany, Austria and Hungary - to control the flow of migrants.

They also followed revelations that two of the Paris attackers entered the EU on the migrant route through Greece.

"If we want to preserve Schengen we have to improve our common external border management. The current security risks make action urgent," said European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans.

The new European Border and Coast Guard would be created from Frontex and EU member states' own border authorities, which would continue to manage the border on a day-to-day basis, the commission said.

The new force would have a rapid reserve pool of 1500 experts who could be deployed in three days and would have a mandate to intervene if member states were overwhelmed or deemed to be failing to safeguard the EU's external borders.

"This is a safety net which, like all safety nets, we hope will never need to be used. But it is essential to restore the credibility of our border management system," added Mr Timmermans.

In addition, the commission also wants to bring in mandatory checks against EU and national databases on EU citizens arriving at and leaving the Schengen area.

That move followed a United States measure to suspend visa-free entry for citizens of many European countries who had made recent trips to Syria and Iraq as well as Iran and Sudan.

However, Poland said it will oppose any move to send in EU border guards without the host country's approval.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said such powers "would mean that this would be an undemocratic structure, not controlled by the member states".

But he said strengthening Frontex "is necessary in every sense".

Frontex, an EU agency based in Poland, was already poised to send border guards to Greece, where almost 800,000 migrants had arrived by sea this year. Most of them were refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Frontex said its role was to help enforce border controls, but the deployed officers worked "under the command and control of the authorities" in the host country.

The deployment on the Greek islands near Turkey would boost the number of land and sea patrols, meaning more migrants would be identified and properly registered, a Frontex statement said.

Of those who have come ashore this year only one in five was intercepted by border guards, Frontex said.

Border controls and terrorism will top the agenda when EU leaders meet in Brussels tomorrow.

The United Kingdom was not bound by the plan for the new European Border and Coast Guard, because it was not in the 26-country Schengen zone.

But the UK could choose to contribute resources, as it did for the EU's search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean.


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