Types of Operations


Frontex Joint Operations take place at three types of border – sea, land and air. Each operation is based on risk analysis and uniquely tailored to the circumstances identified by the agency in one of its risk analysis products.


As with all border control, sea border activities are divided into border checks (conducted at the border crossing points at sea ports) and border surveillance, which is conducted at sea. Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, coordinated joint operations at sea represent Europe’s biggest search and rescue operation. Every year thousands of migrants attempt to reach the EU by sea, often travelling in dangerously over-crowded and unseaworthy boats.

International law obliges all vessels to provide assistance to any persons found in distress, making search and rescue a priority for everyone operating at sea. Frontex’s role in search and rescue operations is enshrined in its Regulation. Frontex is obliged to provide technical and operational assistance to Member States and non-EU countries in support of such operations that may arise during border surveillance operations at sea.

Search and rescue is a specific objective of the operational plan of every Frontex sea operation. It is important to underline that these operations are always coordinated by the national Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC), which orders vessels that are either the closest to the incident or the most capable ones to assist in the rescue.

Officers deployed by Frontex at the border crossing points at sea ports play an important role in helping conduct border checks and assist in the registration process of irregular migrants. They help national authorities in collecting finger prints and determine the nationality of migrants during screening interviews. Some of them also gather information about the criminal networks involved in people smuggling and trafficking.


Border checks are conducted at border crossing points set up at road and rail points of entry to the EU. In addition to these checks, border guards deployed in Frontex operations conduct border surveillance along land borders.

More than 3,500 km of land borders run along the EU’s eastern frontier, from the Arctic circle in northern Finland to the Evros river region of Greece. Monitoring the migratory flows and reacting accordingly to changing trends at these diverse land borders is a constant challenge. Enhancing the effectiveness of overall border control measures, as well as maximising surveillance and situational awareness by focussing efforts at precise points of increased pressure, are all part of running land border operations.

Frontex also helps ensure a constant exchange of expertise and experience among national border guard officers. The range of skills used at the land borders varies from detection of persons hidden in vehicles at border crossing points to patrols with dogs or night vision observation. In so-called “second-line” activities expertise covers detection of falsified documents or interviewing undocumented persons to determine their nationality.

As with all Frontex operational activities land operations are based on risk analysis reports and when a need is identified, operations are generally run in phases with the duration, place and time being determined close to implementation.

Frontex also has goals for future development concerning land borders. One of these is increased cooperation with customs authorities. Frontex actively participates in information sharing and other integration activities with the Customs Cooperation Working Party (CCWP) and has been involved in increasing cooperation between border-control authorities and customs as well as with national and EU authorities, the Commission and the European Ant-Fraud office (OLAF).


Joint Operations at airports present unique challenges. The point of entry is usually a passport-control booth and hardly anybody can enter undetected. For this reason alone, international airports represent a specific range of border management issues.

The methods used by irregular migrants are also different at airports. Some people intending to stay illegally in the EU use false documents or well-practised techniques under the supervision of criminal facilitators to deceive border officers. And then there are the sheer numbers. According to the Frontex risk analysis, as many as 45% of Europe’s 271 million entry/exits per year are from countries “at risk” of being an irregular migration source. If only 1 percent of these 121 million passengers are migrating irregularly, that means as many as 1.2 million irregular migrants could enter the EU every year through its airports.

But air border operations are about more than passport control. Activities before, during and after passport control are essential to ensuring a secure border. This includes constant information-gathering and analysis of methods used by criminals and other intelligence, effective information exchange between airports, airlines and Member States, specialist officer training and the use of cutting edge technology to detect forged documents and other deceptions.

Frontex has established a reliable system of information gathering, analysis and exchange with Europol and other partners. Frontex receives up-to-date information from more than 130 airports and provides a weekly European overview of the situation at Europe’s external air borders, along with as rapid alerts on new trends and false documents.

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