Europe

Migrant crisis: EU launches new border force plan

Migrants arrive by boat on the Greek island of Lesbos Image copyright AFP
Image caption Greek border controls are of particular concern

Controversial plans for an EU Border and Coast Guard force have been set out as part of an EU drive to curb the record influx of migrants.

The European Commission is proposing a force with a stronger mandate than the EU's current Frontex border teams.

But some governments see the powers as violating national sovereignty.

The commission is also proposing to resettle Syrian refugees directly from camps in Turkey to try to stop people taking the dangerous voyage by sea.

The new proposals follow the reintroduction of border controls by some countries within the EU's internal borderless Schengen area - including Germany, Austria and Hungary - to control the flow of migrants.

They also follow revelations that two of the Paris attackers entered the EU on the migrant route through Greece.

"If we want to preserve Schengen we have to improve our common external border management. The current security risks make action urgent," said European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans.

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Media captionFrontex - EU's border force explained

The new European Border and Coast Guard will be created from Frontex and EU member states' own border authorities, which will continue to manage the border on a day-to-day basis, the commission said.

The new force will have a rapid reserve pool of 1,500 experts who can be deployed in three days and will have a mandate to intervene if member states are overwhelmed or are deemed to be failing to safeguard the EU's external borders.

"This is a safety net which, like all safety nets, we hope will never need to be used. But it is essential to restore the credibility of our border management system," added Mr Timmermans.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Lesbos influx: Despite Frontex assistance the migrant numbers have overwhelmed Greek officials

In addition, the commission also wants to bring in mandatory checks against EU and national databases on EU citizens arriving at and leaving the Schengen area.

That move follows a US move to suspend visa-free entry for citizens of many European countries who have made recent trips to Syria and Iraq as well as Iran and Sudan.

However, Poland says it will oppose any move to send in EU border guards without the host country's approval.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said such powers "would mean that this would be an undemocratic structure, not controlled by the member states".

But he said strengthening Frontex "is necessary in every sense".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Frontex helicopters are among the EU resources deployed to the Greek islands

Frontex - an EU agency based in Poland - is already poised to send border guards to Greece, where almost 800,000 migrants have arrived by sea this year. Most of them are refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Frontex says its role is to help enforce border controls, but the deployed officers work "under the command and control of the authorities" in the host country.

The deployment on the Greek islands near Turkey will boost the number of land and sea patrols, meaning more migrants will be identified and properly registered, a Frontex statement said.

Of those who have come ashore this year only one in five was intercepted by border guards, Frontex said.

Border controls and terrorism will top the agenda when EU leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday.

The UK is not bound by the plan for the new European Border and Coast Guard, because it is not in the 26-country Schengen zone.

But the UK can choose to contribute resources, as it did for the EU's search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean.