The European Union’s border agency Frontex said it had launched Tuesday (22 May) in Albania its first-ever joint operation outside the bloc’s territory.
The announcement came just days before EU elections with the bloc’s migration policy under attack from populist candidates such as Italian vice premier Matteo Salvini and French far-right National Rally top candidate Jordan Bardella.
Bardella recently said that Frontex, tasked with protecting bloc’s external borders, acted as a “receptionist for migrants”.
Shrugging off such criticism, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos labelled the operation launched in Tirana a “real game changer and a truly historical step bringing this region closer to the EU by working together … on shared challenges such as better managing migration and protecting our common borders”.
We're launching our first operation outside the European Union. Frontex officers will support Albania with border control and tackling cross-border crime at its border with Greece #EUProtects #MigrationEU pic.twitter.com/UeWlhtgUMN
— Frontex (@Frontex) May 21, 2019
Albania, which hopes to open EU membership talks in June, will through the scheme receive help with border control and tackling cross-border crime.
The Balkan country’s Prime Minister Edi Rama hailed a “very important step in relations between Albania and the EU” and said it was “strengthening cooperation in the security field”.
Starting Wednesday, Frontex teams will be deployed at the Greek border alongside Albanian border guards.
The European Commission has initialled similar deals with Bosnia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, which should come into force soon.
Those countries and Albania lie on the so-called Balkans route used by thousands of EU-bound migrants.
Hundreds of thousands used the route in 2015 and 2016, fleeing war and poverty across Africa and the Middle East — but it was effectively closed in March 2016.
Strengthened cooperation will “contribute to the better management of irregular migration, further enhance security at the EU’s external borders and strengthen the agency’s ability to act in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood, while bringing that neighbourhood closer to the EU,” a Commission statement said.
The EU decided considerably to strengthen Frontex after the huge 2015 influx sparked chaos.
By 2027, the agency expects to deploy 10,000 border and coast guards to help countries cope with migrants.