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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
EU plans emergency border squads
Migrants in the Canary Islands
Some 11,000 migrants have arrived in the Canary Islands this year
A plan to create rapid reaction teams of border guards to deal with European Union immigration crises has been unveiled by the European Commission.

The teams would be assembled by the EU border security agency, Frontex, from lists of experts in member states.

The plan would help the EU respond to appeals for assistance, such as Spain's request in May for help dealing with African migrants in the Canary Islands.

EU states promised ships and aircraft but the patrols have yet to start.

The EU's Justice Commissioner, Franco Frattini, said four ships and two aircraft from EU member states had already arrived in the Canary Islands and he was confident the operation would begin next week.

Now it is the Canary Islands, tomorrow will be the case of Malta, because we are about to launch another European mission to patrol the Mediterranean
Franco Frattini,
Justice Commissioner

He said the EU was also planning an operation to patrol the Mediterranean, near the coast of Malta.

Both countries say they have been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants. They are currently engaged in a standoff over a group of Africans on a Spanish trawler, which neither country wants to accept.

Own uniforms

The proposals approved by the European Commission on Wednesday say it would be up to each member state to decide whether to make experts available.

Provide "expertise and manpower" to countries in extreme difficulties
Consist of border guards and experts, such as interpreters
Carry out border patrols, check and stamp travel documents
Wear own national uniforms with armband showing EU flag
Costs of operation, except salaries, borne by EU
Frontex vets requests for help, and draws up operational plan
Frontex also accompanies teams on the ground, and conducts regular training
Mr Frattini said the aim would be to have a pool of 250 or 300 ready to be called up in emergencies, including experts in first aid, translation, risk assessment and the identification of people.

All border guards would wear their own national uniforms - with an armband identifying them as members of a joint EU rapid reaction team - but would be temporarily under the control of the host state.

The Commission says that planning such an operation is currently complicated by a muddle of different national laws in each member state governing what tasks foreign border guards can fulfil.

It says rapid reaction teams should be able to patrol the border, and to check and stamp the travel documents of anyone crossing it.

Frontex would bear the cost of the operation, though the members of the rapid reaction team would continue to receive their normal salaries from their own member states.


Missions would be sent to the crisis area within 10 days of a request being made.

The Commission also approved on Wednesday a list of priority policies to tackle illegal immigration.

These include a new system for registering the arrival and departure of non-EU citizens visiting the EU, making it easier to verify whether someone has "overstayed" his or her visa.

Mr Frattini said he would also be studying whether to legislate to "harmonise" sentences in member states for people caught employing illegal immigrants.

The commission also says it will prioritise action against illegal trafficking, and further deals with third countries to allow migrants to be returned to their point of departure for the EU.

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