Frontex Operations

All operations coordinated by Frontex are intelligence-driven. They are based on a detailed risk analysis of the situation at the external borders, migratory trends, situation in the countries of origin and transit, methods used by people-smuggling networks, strengths and vulnerabilities of border control at the specific points of the external EU borders. A detailed operational plan is devised in consultation with an EU country which is either currently facing migratory flows or is likely to in the future. The Operational plan includes the number and the type of technical equipment (vessels, planes, patrol cars etc.), as well as the number and the specialisation of border guards to be deployed – these can include, according to the needs, forged document experts, border surveillance officers, debriefing officers, screeners.  Frontex then sends out a call for participation to all EU Member states and Schengen Associated countries (SAC) in order to fill out the required deployment needs. Once all the equipment prescribed in the operational plan is provided, a Joint Operation is launched.

It should be noted that all the deployed officers (guest officers or GOs) work under the command and control of the authorities of the country hosting the operation. In practice this means that an officer from the host country is always present aboard every vessel, aircraft or patrol car deployed by Frontex.

An operation may be launched by the agency upon a request from a Member State facing challenges at its external border. The agency’s Executive Director can also recommend a joint operation or rapid border intervention to a Member State based on the results of the vulnerability assessment.


We provide law enforcement officers from the Member States and Schengen Associated Countries, along with vessels, airplanes and border surveillance equipment to external border areas in need of additional assistance. Frontex has officers and operations at a number of EU’s land, sea and air borders. For more information, go here.

In situations requiring increased operational assistance, the agency can carry out operations on the territory of a country neighbouring at least one participating Member State. Such operations will, of course, require the prior agreement and the involvement of the third country’s authorities.

Frontex deploys vessels, aircraft, patrol cars, heartbeat detectors, and other equipment, to operational areas, depending on the needs of the host member state. The deployment levels depend on the level of migratory pressure in the area.

In its operations, the agency has mainly been using vessels, aircraft, vehicles and other technical equipment that belongs to EU Member States. Frontex is now also able to buy or lease its own equipment, such as patrol cars. The agency leases planes and remotely piloted aircraft for air surveillance to support EU Member States in border control.


Frontex deploys an average of 1500 officers to European Union’s external borders at one time. They include crews of vessels, border surveillance officers, document experts, identification and registration officers, and others. For more information about the officers working in our operations, see here.



Training is one of the key tasks of Frontex. Every year the agency trains several thousand officers from all around Europe. Last year, Frontex trained nearly 4000 officers.

It is important that all officers working at Europe’s external borders have the same level of knowledge and the same skills. This is why Frontex regularly organises courses for officers at land, sea and air borders. The goal is to create a European border guard community with the highest professional and ethical standards.


Frontex currently coordinates three operations at airports across Europe. They aim to enhance EU airport border guards’ document expertise, improve operational coordination and exchange of information between airports. They also contribute to identifying risks and threats at European air borders.

Operations at airports are smaller in scale than those at sea and land, but no less important in European efforts to strengthen border security at external borders.

Search and Rescue (SAR) is always a priority for everyone operating at sea. The agency provides support (to Member States and non-EU countries) in SAR operations during its maritime operations. The search and rescue operations are carried out in accordance with EU and international law.

International law obliges all captains of vessels to provide assistance to any persons found in distress at sea. SAR is also a specific objective of the operational plan of every Frontex joint maritime operation. For this reason, vessels deployed by Frontex to an operational area are always ready to provide support to the national authorities in SAR operations.

It is important to stress that all SAR operations are coordinated by the national Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC). The MRCC orders those vessels which are either the closest to the incident or the most capable ones (due to the specialised training of the crew, or the vessels specifications, etc.) to assist in the rescue. These may include national commercial or military vessels, vessels deployed by Frontex, private boats and other.

During a standard border control operation, Frontex-deployed vessels operate under the command of the International Coordination Centre (ICC), but when contacted by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and redirected to a SAR operation, it is the MRCC that takes command. Once Frontex assets reach people in distress, they first provide immediate medical assistance and give them food and water. Once a rescue operation is completed, migrants are disembarked and handed over to the national authorities for identification and registration. In Italy and Greece, Frontex officers assist in registration and identification of the large numbers of arrivals in hotspots.

In 2018, vessels and aircraft deployed by Frontex helped save more than 37 thousand people in the Mediterranean Sea as part of operations Themis in Italy, Poseidon in Greece and Indalo in Spain.


In Italy, Frontex coordinates Joint Operation Themis. We supports Italy with border control, surveillance, search and rescue in the Central Mediterranean, as well as coast guard functions and combatting cross-border crime.

In Greece, Frontex coordinates Joint Operation Poseidon. It supports Greece with border surveillance, saving lives at sea, registration and identification capacities, as well as coast guard functions and combatting cross-border crime.

Frontex is playing an increasingly important role in returning people who are not entitled to remain in the European Union to their home countries. The agency helps Member States in coordinating and financing return operations, but can also launch them on its own initiative.  For this purpose, Frontex can charter flights and book seats on commercial flights. The agency also helps with obtaining the necessary travel documents for the returnees and providing experts to assist with the return operations.

For more information, go here.


In 2018, Frontex supported Member States in the return of 13 729 persons not eligible to stay in the EU.

Learn more about the role of the agency in return operations.

First of all, it has to be stressed that it is the Greek authorities, who are in charge of the entire readmission process. All persons to be readmitted have to have gone through an individual decision-making process in full accordance with EU- and international law. Only when this process is completed, Frontex supports the Greek authorities by providing transportation and escort officers supporting the Greek officers to accompany the transport. The Greek authorities are in charge of public order and security on the islands.

Frontex cannot decide on who is to be readmitted to Turkey. This decision can only be taken by the Greek authorities. Frontex is not involved in this process and Frontex cannot and does not enter into the merit of return decisions issued by the individual EU Member States. The readmission operation is coordinated between the Greek and Turkish authorities as part of the EU-Turkey Statement. The Greek authorities are responsible for making sure that all migrants to be readmitted have been subject to individual decisions taken in full accordance with EU- and international law.


Integrated Border Management (IBM) reflects the fact that what happens at a national border is only a small part of a much bigger process. IBM focuses on what happens before a person crosses a border (whether passengers have all the required documents, such as valid passport, visa, etc.), during the border crossing (document and database checks) and after a person crosses the border (determination whether the person has the right to remain in the EU/Schengen area or whether there is a need for international protection). To maintain the balance between easing legitimate travel and policing the border, IBM requires a high degree of cooperation between member states of the EU and Schengen Area, as well as across the external borders with the authorities of neighbouring states and travellers’ countries of origin or transit. In short, Integrated Border Management (IBM) includes the following key elements: · Border control, in the form of border checks at the sea, land and air borders and border surveillance · Search and rescue operations · Inter-agency cooperation and coordination of the Member States’ and EU’s activities · Cooperation with third countries and neighbouring countries · Return of third-country nationals who are the subject of return decisions issued by a Member State.


Frontex operations are increasingly multipurpose. This means that boats and planes deployed in its operations also collect and share information relevant to fisheries control, detection of pollution and compliance with maritime regulations in cooperation with relevant EU agencies.

Maritime Aerial Surveillance provides a new way to monitor Europe’s external borders and sharing this information in real time, allowing for instant reactions by Frontex and national authorities to events such as rescue operations and suspected cross-border criminal activities.
MAS uses surveillance planes that stream video and other data from the Central Mediterranean directly to the Frontex Situation Centre (FSC) at the agency’s headquarters in Warsaw, along with relevant national and European authorities. 

Yes. Frontex has a network of liaison officers in non-EU countries to strengthen the cooperation and information exchange. For more information, see here.


We use cookies on our website to support technical features that enhance your user experience.
More information