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.