Roles & Responsibilities

Schengen countries are obliged to deploy sufficient staff and resources to ensure a “high and uniform level of control” at their external borders. They must ensure that border guards are properly trained. EU and Schengen Associated Countries also assist each other in the effective application of border controls via operational cooperation, which is coordinated by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

The Schengen area now extends along some 44 000 km of external sea borders and almost 9 000 km of land borders. It comprises 26 countries (including a number of non-EU states, so-called Schengen Associated Countries), meaning free movement for nearly half a billion people inside the Schengen area in exchange for strict controls at external borders. Simply put, the Schengen area’s external border is only as strong as its weakest link.

The Schengen Borders Code governs the crossing of the external border, facilitating access for those who have a legitimate interest to enter into the EU and tightening security at the EU’s external frontiers for those, who have no right to enter or stay. It clearly states that the primary responsibility of border control lies with those Schengen countries that have an external border –land and sea borders and international airports. They must ensure that proper checks and effective surveillance are carried out there.

Frontex’s mission is to promote, coordinate and develop European Border Management in line with the EU fundamental rights charter and the concept of EU-integrated border management.

Frontex also provides technical and operational assistance to Member States through joint operations and rapid border interventions, as well as technical and operational assistance in the support of search and rescue operations at sea and organises. In addition, Frontex coordinates and conducts return operations and assists EU countries in raising and harmonising border management standards to help combat cross-border crime.

How it works

While regular border control is the exclusive responsibility of the Member States, Frontex’s operational role focuses on coordination of deployment of additional experts and technical equipment to those border areas which find themselves under significant pressure. Frontex also builds the capacity of the Member States in various areas related to border control, including training and sharing of best practices.

Frontex joint operations are planned and developed on the basis of an Annual Risk Analysis Reports which analyses the likely future risk of irregular migration and cross-border crime along the EU external border. During the annual meetings with Member States the agency prioritises the proposed joint operations on the basis of their importance and the resources available in order to ensure an effective response.

Consultation with Member States 
Together with the host country Frontex makes an assessment of the number of officers with specific expertise and the quantity and type of technical equipment required. Frontex then directs a request to all Member States and Schengen Associated Countries for the necessary officers, clearly specifying their required profiles (including document experts, border checks, surveillance experts, dog handlers) as well as specific equipment needed for the operation (such as helicopters, planes, patrol cars, thermo-vision equipment, heart-beat detectors). Those countries then decide on the level of contribution they can make to the joint operation.

Operational Plan 
This document clearly defines the aim of each joint operation, where it is to take place and the quantities and types of technical equipment and officers to take part. Many operations require the deployment of debriefing officers, who conduct interviews with migrants with the purpose of gathering information about people-smuggling networks. In addition, cultural mediators and interpreters enable migrants to express themselves in their own languages. The operational plan also clearly states the rules of engagement for officers taking part in the operation.

At this stage, border guards and technical equipment are deployed to the operational area to carry out their duties according to the operational plan. The deployed officers (known as guest officers) work under the command and control of the authorities of the country hosting the operation.

During deployment, guest officers may perform all tasks and exercise all powers for border checks or border surveillance in accordance with Schengen Borders Code. These tasks include border checks, border surveillance, stamping, interviewing undocumented persons, consultation of databases.

Guest officers wear their national uniforms and a blue armband (picture) with the insignia of the EU and Frontex. For the purposes of identification vis-à-vis national authorities and citizens, guest officers carry an accreditation document, provided by Frontex, which they must present on request.

Code of conduct 
All officers deployed to an operation coordinated by the agency are bound by the Frontex Code of Conduct, which includes specific provisions on the respect of fundamental rights and the right to international protection. It lays out a set of behavioural standards that all staff involved in a Frontex joint operation must follow.

Once completed, each operation is evaluated by Frontex, the participating countries and other stakeholders involved ensuring that the operational process is constantly refined.

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