Commission tries to get to grips with recent immigration crises
The Commission plans new measures to deal with European Union immigration crises, including strengthening border controls and creating rapid reaction squads of border guards to patrol EU frontiers.
The package adopted on 19 July 2006 by the Commission contained a Communication which takes stock of the progress made up till now in fighting illegal immigration and identifies the EU´s policy priorities in this area:
- Further strengthening the external borders: The Commission is suggesting using biometric technology to record the entrance and exit of all non-EU visitors to the Union. This will allow immigration officials to know who is overstaying.
- Continue the fight against human trafficking
- Tackle illegal employment: Illegal immigrants are often able to find employment in the EU – mostly under exploitative conditions in construction, catering and textile industries. This is a significant pull-factor for illegal immigration and the Commission therefore, suggests to specifically target this issue. Member States should introduce harmonised EU sanctions for rogue employers.
- Carry out research on the impact of large-scale regularisations of illegal immigrants
- Continue work towards an effective common return policy
The Communication was accompanied by proposals for a Community code on short-stay visas and for the creation of Rapid Reaction Border Guard Teams made up of national experts able to provide rapid technical and operational assistance at times of high influxes of migrants.
The first proposal aims to clarify the existing rules for issuing visas so as to facilitate legitimate travel and to tackle illegal immigration through further harmonisation of national legislation.
The second proposal aims to alleviate some of the pressure on Southern EU countries by creating a joint force of border guards, translators, and first aid helpers that could check travel documents, search vehicles, take part in sea patrols and interview migrants. The guards could carry weapons and would wear blue armbands with the EU insignia.
The objective is to establish a force of 250 to 300 experts that can be readily available within 10 days of a country's request. Member States remain free to choose whether they wish to contribute experts to the force, which would be managed by the EU’s Border Security Agency, FRONTEX.
- An estimated 400,000 people cross the EU's borders each year without the necessary travel documents.
- Two-thirds of the above take advantage of the poor border controls that exist in member-states fronting the Mediterranean Sea.
- More than 10,000 migrants have flooded into the Canary Islands of Spain in the first half of 2006 - already twice as many as in 2005.
- Malta received 18 boatloads of migrants in June alone.
- Thousands of undocumented Africans are estimated to drown each month attempting to reach the European coast.
The EU’s multi-annual work programme in the area of justice, freedom and security, known as the Hague Programme, sets out an agenda to step up the fight against illegal immigration in a number of broad policy areas, including border security, illegal employment, return and cooperation with third countries.
The Finnish Presidency has outlined the deepening of shared European responsibilities on immigration, border controls, and refugee matters as one of its priorities during its mandate.
Vice President Frattini, Commissioner responsible for Freedom, Security and Justice said “We need a reinforced and more efficient fight against illegal immigration, fundamental for the credibility and coherence of our immigration and asylum policies... In particular by being tough on illegal immigration we prevent immigrants from being exploited and we remove the key pull factor for illegal immigration.”
Tonio Borg, Malta's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, said the rapid reaction force, which would supplement patrol boats and planes provided by the EU's external border agency, was a step in the right direction. But he complained that bureaucracy had slowed the response. "The EU has moved slowly and the EU external border control agency doesn't have its own frontier guards," he said. That "means it must rely on help from member states, many of whom have been egotistical and nationalistic."
President Jacques Chirac of France reminded listeners of his 2006 Bastille Day address that "Africans will flood the world" unless the continent is developed. "We have an immense problem, which is that of development," he said.