RABIT to run EU border patrols

During its plenary session in Strasbourg, the European Parliament adopted a report by MEP Gérard Deprez setting up RApid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT). Meanwhile Frontex, the European border agency, plans to permanently extend its operations in West Africa.

This regulation, which was already agreed by EU member states in Council, will allow the Warsaw-based Frontex agency to constitute mobile border guards from all member states, chosen according to the profiles and competences of personnel, such as the piloting of helicopters or ships, control of containers, radar expertise, detection of forged identity papers, as well as knowledge of maritime laws and certain languages. The board of directors, composed of member states’ representatives, will see that the burden is distributed evenly. 

The rapid-reaction teams will help countries such as Spain and Italy deal with sudden influxes of illegal migrants. The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the measures on 26 April 2007, with 526 members in favour, 63 against and 28 abstentions.

More than 31,000 illegal migrants reached Spain’s Canary Islands off west Africa in 2006, six times more than in 2005.

Italy and Malta also faced huge flows of migrants – and many die during the journey.

The measures also include a ‘mandatory solidarity’ principle, obliging member states to assist each other on border issues.

Border guards wearing EU-flagged armbands would be deployed within ten days of a member state requesting help, assuming that the yet-to-be-appointed border agency director gives the go-ahead.

The salaries of border guards will continue to be paid by the countries of origin, but the additional costs of operations (travel expenses, repatriation, insurance, living costs) will be borne by Frontex. To this end, Parliament has boosted the agency’s budget by €10 million for 2007. 

According to MEP Gérard Deprez, the report's author: "RABIT will serve as a reserve from which Frontex will be able to draw from when requested by a member state, following a sudden mass immigration, which was the case in the Canary Islands last year. This resulted in the Spanish maritime police being stretched to their limits...It is a question of solidarity but we must also be prepared to act as this type of crisis could happen to almost any of our member states."

Maltese Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Borg told The Times: "We are very satisfied with the progress being made both by the EU and, particularly, by Frontex on this issue. Due to our continuous pressure, including that of other member states that are facing the same problem, illegal immigration has become a priority for the EU. This makes us more confident that we will not be alone when things get tough."

Maltese MEP Simon Busuttil, a long-time champion of the establishment of such teams of experts, described the new law as a "solidarity instrument".

Busuttil said: "This solidarity is compulsory, it is not optional. This makes it real solidarity. Solidarity is not like charity, which is voluntary; it is a binding commitment. Thanks to this law, countries facing emergency situations on immigration will start to feel that they are no longer completely on their own. However, on its, the law is not enough to overcome the challenge of illegal immigration."

The RABIT 'strategic reserve' will initially comprise 300 - 500 specially trained border guards and national experts who can be mobilised by Frontex when one or more member states are confronted with the sudden arrival of a large influx of illegal immigrants at the Union's external borders.

Migrants fleeing poverty risk voyages of up to 2,000km from the African coast in the hope of reaching the EU. Some 6,000 people died en route to the Canary Islands in 2006, according to Spanish officials.


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