Two years ago, Frontex was expanded and enhanced to become the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. The Agency’s new mandate and increased resources have transformed Frontex into the operational arm of the EU in its ongoing response to the challenges at its external borders.
Frontex is a cornerstone of the EU’s efforts to safeguard the area of freedom, security and justice, helping to guarantee an area of free movement without internal borders checks that many of us already take for granted. Since the expansion of the Agency’s mandate, we have greatly increased our activities to combat cross-border crime and help prevent terrorist attacks. Collecting and processing personal data of those crossing the external borders illegally for use by Europol and national law enforcement authorities is just one example.
We know that intelligence and information are crucial for formulating an appropriate response to real and potential threats at the EU’s external borders. One element of this is our network of liaison officers, who form the interface between the Agency and the national level. Another is the Agency’s cutting-edge risk analysis. Still another are the regular assessments of Member States’ border control capacities. These assessments do not only provide a better understanding of potential gaps, but also concrete solutions in the form of mandatory recommendations and assistance in addressing the identified vulnerabilities.
We are continuing to pilot new and innovative technologies to modernise the EU’s border management, with the objective of striking an appropriate balance between increasing border checks and security screening on the one hand, while facilitating smooth and fast border crossing for travellers from or visiting the EU for business, tourism or study.
The Agency is also playing a more central role in migration enforcement. Member States increasingly request our assistance in coordinating the repatriation of irregular migrants, failed asylum seekers or overstayers to their country of origin. The number of returnees has grown over the last few years to some 14,000 in 2017 from just 3,500 in 2015. At present, Frontex supports nearly 10 % of all effective returns from the EU.
All the while, Frontex continues to make an impact by having a strong presence on the ground. The Agency currently has some 1,500 officers deployed at the EU’s sea, land and air borders, assisting EU Member States in tasks such as surveillance, fingerprinting and security checks. In the case of an emergency at the external border, Frontex has a further 1,500 officers at its disposal at short notice, as well as additional equipment as needed.
These deployments are having a clear effect. Since the beginning of 2017, we have helped in our maritime operations alone to apprehend almost 300 suspected facilitators and more than 100 smugglers, as well as assisting in the seizure of hard drugs and contraband cigarettes. Last but not least, Frontex officers involved in search and rescue operations have helped save more than 65,000 lives in the Mediterranean since the new mandate came into effect. Fundamental rights are integrated into Frontex operations from their inception, ensuring that all those fleeing war and persecution are able to apply for international protection.
We at Frontex are aware that the Agency’s significantly expanded mandate and resources bring greater scrutiny and increased accountability. It is therefore fortunate that we have numerous safeguards in this regard, including our Management Board, and the fact that the Agency has an independent Fundamental Rights Officer, making sure that our high standards in this area are publicly held to account. At the same time, Frontex is in constant contact with Member States and the EU institutions, with the Executive Director a regular guest at the European Parliament and at meetings of EU ministers responsible for home affairs and migration.
All our activities are in place and carried out with the safety and well-being of citizens in mind, and we are proud of our achievements. At the same time, we are aware of the many hurdles ahead. In rising to meet new challenges, we look forward to working together with the Member States, EU institutions and our many institutional partners for the benefit of the freedom and security of everyone in Europe.
Frontex Executive Director