EU’s Mediterranean border mission snag

BRUSSELS (AFP) – Patrols of the European Union’s porous Mediterranean border by the EU agency set up to fight illegal immigration have been suspended due to lack of means, the European Commission said Thursday. «As I understand it, there is indeed a pause now,» said Friso Roscam Abbing, spokesman for EU Security Commissioner Franco Frattini, when asked about the operations by the Frontex border agency. He added that it was hoped the «pause» would be as short as possible. The summer is normally prime time for clandestine arrivals on EU shores aboard rickety vessels. «We very much hope and are committed to ensure that as of next year there will be no pauses in this operation.» The Mediterranean border operation, dubbed Nautilus II, was launched in late June by Malta, Greece, France, Italy and Germany and was due to last until October and the end of the summer sailing season. Roscam Abbing said that while 19 EU nations had committed themselves to deploying the necessary control and surveillance equipment to Frontex – including helicopters, planes and boats – only «eight or nine» had so far signed the necessary memorandums of understanding. «As soon as we have all those (promised) means… we would have physically at our disposal the tool we need,» he added. On Wednesday Joseph Daul, the head of the European People’s Party – the biggest political group in the EU Parliament – called on the Commission and Frontex to immediately resume the Nautilus operation. The border mission appears to have been effective in reducing the number of arrivals in Malta when one compares the arrivals for the same period last month (50 percent less), said Daul. «But if reductions in numbers were indeed due to the effectiveness of the mission, then it is clear that it does not make any sense at all to stop them in peak season, during the crucial summer months of August and September.» Frontex was set up in 2005 to coordinate the efforts of member states to secure the EU’s 6,000 kilometers (3,600 miles) of external land borders and 85,000 kilometers of coastline. The agency has been particularly active in the eastern Mediterranean as well as off the coast of western Africa, from where thousands of illegal migrants set sail each year for Spain’s Canary Islands on board unseaworthy boats.