Gil Arias-Fernández: ‘the immigration problem in Calais is not so bad’


Gil Arias-Fernández is the Executive Director of Frontex, the European border control agency. []

Gil Arias-Fernández, Executive Director of the European border control agency Frontex, spoke to EURACTIV France about Operation Triton and the immigration situation in Calais.

Gil Arias-Fernández is the Executive Director of Frontex, the agency charged with guarding the external borders of the Schengen area.  

Operation Triton was launched by Frontex on 1 November. What does it consist of?

Triton is a new operation, replacing two old operations the agency used to coordinate in the South of Italy. These were operation Hermes, in the South of Sicily, and operation Aeneas, on the costs of Apulia and Calabria. We have been able to deploy more resources, including extra border guards, planes and helicopters. 24 member states have contributed. The French authorities will soon be deploying a customs aircraft.

Discussions began on this operation before the summer break, at the beginning of August. In late August we agreed with the Commission and the Italian authorities to launch the operation. It was planned and executed independently of Mare Nostrum. We were not, and are still not, involved in Mare Nostrum, as it is an Italian military operation.

How does Triton differ from Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation?

Firstly, Mare Nostrum is a military search and rescue operation led by the Italian navy. It is not a border control operation. It is deployed on the edges of Libya’s territorial waters.

Triton is not a search and rescue operation, but a border control operation. But of course saving the lives of migrants is a priority, if they are in danger. Of the 3,000 people who have arrived in Italy over the last two weeks, around 85% were rescued using resources coordinated by Frontex. These migrants come mainly from Syria and Eritrea. Some also come from Somalia and Afghanistan.

Another difference is that Triton operates closer to the EU, while Mare Nostrum is off the African cost.

What is the operational budget of Triton?

Triton’s budget is around 2.9 million euro per month. This can depend on the tools deployed, as the cost of deployment changes from country to country.

This budget is possible thanks to funds from the Commission as well as the reallocation of Frontex’s internal funds. Funds allocated to certain missions in Spain and Greece can also be diverted to Triton, as the immigration situation in the Mediterranean is more worrying than in other regions. We hope the 2015 European budget will be adopted by the beginning of January, and sustain our funding.

What do you think of France’s immigration problem?

To the best of my knowledge, secondary movement, or movement within the Schengen area, is France’s major problem. We do not have much information regarding this, because the agency’s main task is to coordinate operations on the external borders of the Union, not on the borders between France and Italy, or France and Germany.

At the time of the Arab Spring, many Tunisians landed in Italy, but their final destination was France. This trend is continuing. There is also the problem of people being turned away at immigration at Charles de Gaulle airport because they don’t fulfil the necessary criteria to enter the Schengen area.

France is now confronted with a massive influx of immigrants in the region of Calais. How can Frontex help the French government to deal with this phenomenon?

The problem of illegal immigration in Calais is put sharply into perspective when you look at the total number of immigrants in Europe.

From what I know about Calais from talking to my French colleagues, the problem does not seem so bad. I know there is an on-going debate with the United Kingdom, which is not in the Schengen area and does not participate in border control operations. I do not think it is an enormous problem.

For now, we have not received any requests for help from the French authorities in Calais. 

Subscribe to our newsletters