External border management remains a key issue to ensure the EU’s security – Carmelo Abela
“The management of the European Union’s external border remains a key issue in a bid to ensure European citizens’ security while maintaining smooth internal border crossings,” Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Carmelo Abela, told Fabrice Leggeri, Executive Director of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).
Mr Leggeri was in Malta on Monday to hold talks in preparation for Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the EU in the first semester of 2017.
At a meeting held at the Ministry in Valletta, Minister Abela said Malta welcomed the recent relaunch of Frontex with an extended mandate as a step in the right direction. In spite of its size and limitations, he noted, Malta is actively involved in Frontex operations, its Armed Forces placing personnel and assets at the Agency’s disposal.
For the last three years, Malta has deployed a total of around 400 soldiers as part of Frontex missions, on the Greek and Turkish islands and on the Serbian-Bulgarian land border. Malta’s participation in Frontex’s Joint Operation POSEIDON (Sea) consists of coastal observation teams tasked with conducting surveillance of the narrow bodies of water between the Greek and Turkish islands. With regard to Joint Operation POSEIDON (Land), Malta participates with land-based teams operating on EU external borders conducting border patrolling and observation posts.
Since 2013, the AFM has deployed a joint maritime and land contingent of 130 soldiers with the duration per deployment being roughly one month. As of 2013, the AFM started deploying teams to Bulgaria on its land border with Turkey, and has this year relocated them to the Serbian-Bulgarian land border. In total, the AFM has deployed a total of 84 soldiers on these missions.
As regards Joint Operation TRITON, which began in November 2014, Malta participates by deploying both maritime and air assets. Until September 2016, Malta has conducted a total of 5,793 patrolling hours by air or maritime supported by 170 air and maritime personnel. In conjunction with this operation Malta has deployed 14 officers at the TRITON International Coordination Centre (ICC) in Rome.
Minister Abela said that during its EU Presidency, Malta will strive to achieve significant progress on current initiatives aimed at better managing the Union’s external border. These include the establishment of an EU system to register entry and exit of third country nationals, and the creation of an EU Travel Information and Authorisation Scheme (ETIAS), which will also help bolster internal security.
“We must also bear in mind that while it is essential to ensure good border management, we cannot pursue only this aspect, but we need to continue maintaining a comprehensive approach,” the Minister said. “Migration flows in the central Mediterranean are back at the levels of previous years; we must not let go of our sense of urgency.” He also remarked that while focus on the central Mediterranean route is crucial, the EU must also address the emerging, longer route from Egypt towards the central Mediterranean. The EU needs to engage with Egypt before the flows become even bigger and more difficult to handle, he said.
The Minister stressed that the EU must also continue with its work on reforming the Common European Asylum System, but also with its efforts in cooperation with third countries to prevent migrants embarking on these dangerous journeys. It is of utmost importance that the EU achieves concrete results on migrant returns with the five African countries of origin – Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia – with which a results-oriented partnership framework agreement has been signed to mobilise and focus EU action and resources in its external work on managing migration.
“The EU must be able to show our citizens that we can deliver results together with our partner countries, not just talk and documents. We have not been achieving success with regard to the return and readmission of migrants who do not qualify for international protection,” the Minister said, adding that a Senior Officials’ Meeting will be held in February 2017 to follow up on the Action Plan agreed during last November’s Valletta Summit on Migration.
While in Malta, Frontex Executive Director Leggeri also met with Andrew Seychell, Police Consultant and National Frontex Point of Contact, and Supt. Neville Xuereb, Malta’s member on Frontex’s management board. He also had meetings with Brig. Jeffrey Curmi, AFM Commander, with a number of Maltese soldiers who have served on Frontex missions, and with the Maltese members of EU Council preparatory bodies that are relevant to Frontex.