EU launches first immigration border patrols
14.08.2006 – 09:58 CET | By Lucia Kubosova
The EU Observer
The EU has launched its first joint border patrol aimed at stopping illegal immigrants coming to the Canary Islands from Africa, with Brussels denying that it is building a “fortress Europe”.
Announcing the move on Friday (10 August), EU justice and home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini said the operation would have “a humanitarian character” as it would combine “saving lives at sea, as well as reducing illegal immigration and combating trafficking in human beings.”
“This is the 'solidarity in action' I promised to the government and citizens of Spain, and those of the Canary Islands in particular, and this is the kind of support the governments and citizens from Malta and Italy also receive in addressing their specific migration pressures,” Mr Frattini added in a statement.
“This is truly a historic moment in the history of EU immigration policies and a very tangible expression of EU solidarity amongst member states,” he added.
The Canary Islands mission, dubbed Hera II, is expected to last nine weeks and is covered by an EU budget of 3.2 million, with Spain co-financing the project.
It will be carried out by two naval vessels from Italy and Portugal and supported in aerial surveillance by military planes from Italy and Finland in addition to Spanish military vessels and helicopters operating in the area, The Times of Malta reported.
EU officials hope to boost control of the waters off western Africa and divert ships heading for Europe, said Frontex, the EU's external border security agency which conducts the operation.
“The ultimate aim is to prevent these ships from setting off on the dangerous journey,” said the Frontex spokeswoman Daniela Munzbergova.
Over the weekend, around 46 migrants died on their way from west Africa to Canary Islands – with survivors claiming the Spanish police prevented them from reaching the island so they had to sail back and died from lack of food and water, according to press reports.
The patrolling operation follows an earlier phase of the mission – Hera I – which involved a group of experts from various EU member states going to the Canary Islands to help the Spanish authorities with the identification of migrants.
Joint border controls are also projected for the coast of Malta, with Frontex officials still going through the final details with their counterparts in Malta, Italy and Greece.
Earlier this summer, the EU asked Libya to open its territorial waters for a surveillance mission off the Maltese coasts but it still has not responded.
The Europeans decided to carry out the operation just a few metres away from the Libyan sea borders anyway.