EU Announces Immigration Rapid-Reaction Team

London Times Online July 19, 2006

EU announces immigration rapid-reaction team
By Anthony Browne, Brussels Correspondent

Brussels announced plans today for multinational rapid-reaction teams to respond to serious breaches of European Union borders by illegal immigrants.

The teams, to be deployed within ten days of an incident, are part of a package of measures that will include a database that will track all non-European visitors to the Union.

The plans will harmonise rules on short-stay visas, penalties for people who employ illegal immigrants and establish possible pan-European amnesties to regularise illegal immigrants who are already in the EU.

The European Commission plans to set up a permanent team of about 300 experts, including interpreters, identity specialists and medical assistants, who will help national governments to cope with any sudden influx of illegal immigrants.

It is responding to concerns about the growing number of Africans reaching the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocca, the Canaries, and the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Lampedusa. The Commission said: Increased migration pressure during the next decades seems very likely in view of the economic and political situation in many countries of origin and with regard to demographic forecasts.

The new team, which will answer to the EU border agency Frontex, would be granted powers to operate in any member state. For example, a German border guard could work in Spain. Team members would wear their own national uniforms but display EU armbands.

The Commission also suggested that all non-EU visitors be logged upon entering and leaving the Union, allowing immigration officials to know who is overstaying. At present people can enter the EU on a short-term visa in one country and then move on to another Union country, which will be unaware if they are staying on illegally.

The new visitor database will also make it possible to bar people from entering the EU if they have previously overstayed illegally. The database will be similar to those used in the US and Australia, where immigration officials track everyone who enters and leaves the country.

The task force will operate in all the EU countries which have signed the Schengen agreement. Britain, which has not signed, will not be included and has been told that its officials will not be allowed to participate.