EU to send rapid-reaction force to stop migrant flood
24 May 2006
BRUSSELS The European Union is to send planes, boats and rapid-reaction aid teams from its member states to deal with a new flood of illegal migrants trying to reach the Canary Islands.
EU justice and home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini said the EU “will provide operational support as fully as we can to the Spanish government to deal with an urgent and difficult situation”.
He said the EU's external border security agency, Frontex, would send two emergency coordination teams to the Canary Islands, which has been at the receiving end of illegal migrants coming from western Africa.
Spain's deputy prime minister Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said her government and regional authorities on the Canary Islands needed emergency help as soon as possible.
“We are now faced with a situation which has grown in proportion … we need measures to be taken urgently,” she said.
More than 1,500 illegal immigrants arrived in the past week from West Africa.
Frattini added Frontex would also coordinate in the coming weeks surveillance planes and boats, manned by soldiers and police, drawn from eight EU member states to prevent the would-be migrants from making their way to Europe.
“We already have eight which are prepared to express their solidarity and make available to us rapid offshore vessels and reconnaissance planes,” Frattini said, adding the EU-mandated mission would patrol the coast off western Africa down to Gambia and Senegal, from where most of the would-be migrants are sailing.
Fernandez de la Vega said Madrid hoped to set up reception centres with other EU nations in key transit countries of Mauritania and Senegal, used by a majority of migrants to get to Europe.
She met Frattini and other European Commission officials to see what action the EU could take.
EU governments have already agreed to stepped-up cooperation and coordination of resources such as search planes, boats and reception centres for migrants.
Frattini has called for EU governments to back plans for an emergency EU fund for quick responses to mass flows of migrants, as well as setting up a permanent plan for European patrols in the Mediterranean to intercept illegal migrants.
EUR 2.7 million in EU cash has been dedicated to stopping the tide of migrants.
EU officials have identified Senegal and Mali as the leading countries of origin, while the top transit countries remain Mauritania and Morocco.
Other EU countries, including Italy, Malta and Cyprus have also had illegal migration problems in recent years.
Spain, however, has seen the highest numbers in recent months.
Last year authorities caught 4,751 African migrants trying to reach the Canary Islands, the vast majority packed into narrow, open boats that sometimes take weeks to make the dangerous voyages.
At least 1,000 more people are believed to have died in the choppy seas.
Most use Spain as a staging post to reach other European countries.
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]