With so many member states and other partners involved in operations, and the quantity of data that needs to be sorted and analysed, information management is an important aspect of Frontex’s work. With over 42,000 km of coastline, almost 9,000 km of land borders and around 300 international airports, Europe sees around 500 million border crossings a year. The job of managing the flow of legal and illegal migration requires a clear picture of the current situation at all the EU’s external borders — from airports as well as from the EU’s other approximately 1800 Border Crossing Points both on land and at sea ports.
In response to this need, the Frontex Situation Centre (FSC) was created. FSC has the task of providing a constantly updated picture, as near to real time as possible, of Europe’s external borders and migration situation. But the FSC has more than an information-gathering function. It acts as a central point of contact and information access for all Frontex stakeholders. It is also a vital part of Frontex’s rapid-response mechanism in the event of an emergency situation occurring anywhere at the external border. To ensure this, FSC has multiple functions to fulfil within the Frontex apparatus.
Situation monitoring — This is FSC’s core function. All other areas of the centre’s activity contribute in some way to its ability to provide as detailed, accurate and up-to-date a picture as possible of the situation at the EU’s external borders. FSC provides situation and crisis monitoring, delivering early alerts and situation reports to internal and external customers.
Central point of contact — In order to ensure effective communication, FSC provides a clear point of official contact (incoming and outgoing) between Member States and Frontex as well as for other external partners.
Joint operational support — FSC processes incoming data from all fields of operation, collating and processing it into daily situational pictures of what is happening on the ground. This processing includes checking the quality of incoming data and ensuring it is available in the right format for further analysis. Frontex has developed its own specialised reporting systems that allow all participants in joint operations to share information effectively.
Media monitoring — An indispensable element of staying abreast of the bigger picture is constantly monitoring open and media sources.
Mission awareness and back-up — The aim of mission awareness is to keep the relevant Frontex staff informed about critical areas and any other pertinent information about countries outside the EU.
Crisis management support — In the event of a rapid intervention being deployed, it is FSC’s role to ensure that all in-house procedures are followed correctly and to monitor the progress of the emergency support measures.
Eurosur is the information-exchange framework designed to improve the management of Europe’s external borders. It aims to support Member States by increasing their situational awareness and reaction capability in combating cross-border crime, tackling irregular migration and preventing loss of migrant lives at sea.
The backbone of Eurosur is a network of National Coordination Centres (NCCs). Each member state establishes an NCC, which groups the authorities responsible for border control in a given member state. The main role of the NCC is to coordinate the border surveillance activities on national level and serve as a hub for the exchange of information.
The NCCs collect local and national information about what takes place at the border, including illegal border crossings and criminal activity. The data processed by the NCC personnel creates a national situational picture. The NCCs are also responsible for sharing the relevant information with other member states and Frontex. Based on this input and information from other sources, Frontex creates the European situational picture and the common pre-frontier intelligence picture (focused on areas beyond the Schengen Area and EU borders).
The two pictures created by Frontex contain information on the events that recently took place at the borders, operational activities and analysis. These are created and maintained by Frontex and shared with Member States through the NCC network. None of the information currently exchanged within Eurosur contains personal data.
In addition to maintaining and sharing the situational pictures, Frontex also provides information collected from satellites and other surveillance tools at the European level. Member states can use such information to further improve their situational awareness. The collection of these services, called Eurosur Fusion Services, facilitates access to state of the art technologies, help reduce the duplication of efforts by member states and reduces costs.
The Eurosur Fusion Services include automated vessel tracking and detection capabilities, software functionalities allowing complex calculations for detecting anomalies and predicting vessel positions, as well as precise weather and oceanographic forecasts. Fusion Services use optical and radar satellite technology to locate vessels suspected to be engaged in people smuggling that often puts the lives of migrants in danger. Many of the services are delivered in cooperation with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the EU Satellite Centre (SatCen).
Besides close-to-real-time services, Frontex also makes available a wide range of analytical products tailored for operational use within Eurosur.
Eurosur goes beyond situational awareness by indicating the adequate level of operational reaction at different border sections. For this purpose, Member States have divided their external land and sea borders into sections. Each of this border sections is attributed an impact level — low, medium or high — which refer to the security of a given border section assessed against identified risk levels for illegal border crossing or cross-border crime. Measures to be taken to reduce the risks remain the responsibility of individual Member States, although in the case of “high impact level” border areas they may request operational assistance from Frontex in the form of prioritised spatial services, a joint operation or rapid intervention.
The Eurosur Regulation contains a range of fundamental rights safeguards, including the principles of data protection and non-refoulement, or the practice of not forcing migrants to return to a state where they may be subject to persecution.
The monitoring of EU external borders is vital for the internal security and protection of European citizens. That is why Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, has been implementing the Copernicus Programme since 2015, when it signed the Delegation Agreement with the European Commission on the Implementation of the Border Surveillance Component of the Copernicus Security Service. In line with the agreement, Frontex acts as the single and central point of contact for the acquisition, fusion and delivery of the Copernicus Border Surveillance Services.
Copernicus data allow Frontex to achieve its prime objective - to increase situational awareness at the EU external borders by monitoring and mapping, as well as providing risk assessment. In cooperation with Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space (DG DEFIS) and other relevant stakeholders, Frontex supports national authorities to better detect irregular migrants at EU external borders, conduct rescues and save lives at sea and fight cross-border crime.
Frontex is responsible for supporting EU’s external border and law enforcement authorities in the Member States and Schengen Associated Countries, ensuring that Earth Observation data is combined with complementary information to provide a range of services to its stakeholders. The Border Surveillance Component of the Copernicus Security Services complements the portfolio of services provided by Frontex to Member States and other stakeholders through Eurosur Fusion Services (EFS). Thanks to Copernicus data, Frontex can enhance and upgrade its service portfolio, systems and technologies.