WARSAW – Fabrice Leggeri, Executive Director of Frontex, EU Border Cooperation Agency, said on Tuesday in Warsaw, that a high record number of migrants are likely to move into Europe this year.
Frontex was in charge of an EU coastguard mission patrolling the Mediterranean, dubbed Operation Triton.
The operation started last November just as Italy wound down a much larger programme, Mare Nostrum, that rescued more than 100,000 migrants in 2014.
He said this was because human traffickers were becoming increasingly aggressive as they take advantage of chaos in Africa and the Middle East.
He said many asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are reaching Europe via the Mediterranean Sea with hundreds dying during the perilous crossing.
“Libya’s plunge into anarchy has created an ideal environment for traffickers, who pack people fleeing war and poverty in the Arab world and sub-Saharan African onto rickety boats that set sail for Europe, mainly aiming for nearby Italy.
“The numbers since Jan. 1 of what my agency terms “irregular crossings” into Europe at all border points is the highest ever recorded,’’ he said.
Leggeri said an official put the number at more than 5,600, in spite winter storms and cold that normally deter the human smugglers.
He said in 2014, there were approximately 300,000 irregular crossings into the European Union, with UN data showing more than 218,000 people entering via the Mediterranean.
Leggeri said the other major route for migrants was overland from the Middle East into the western Balkans and onto the EU.
“There are obvious reasons, because of the geo-political situation in Syria and the Middle East, because in Libya one can say there is a failed state.
“There is no government able to have effective control of the territory, which makes it easier for organised crime to flourish there,” he said.
Leggeri said traffickers were becoming more aggressive.
He recalled that in one case this month, smugglers pulled out guns to threaten an Italian coastguard crew which was trying to tow a wooden vessel filled with migrants into port.
“The traffickers, he said, wanted the boat back so they could use it again,’’ he said.
Leggeri said Operation Triton, which had been planned to run only until the end of January, would now carry on throughout the year, adding that it had already helped save up to 9,000 people.
He said he had put out a call to EU member states to provide the vessels and aircraft needed to keep the operation going.
The EU Borders Chief said this has become imperative because Frontex has no operational resources of its own, as it currently employs nine boats and two aircraft.
Meanwhile, The United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said Operation Triton was woefully inadequate, and urged Europe to take a new approach.
UNHCR noted that the Mediterranean crossing claimed an estimated 3,300 lives last year, and earlier this month more than 300 people are believed to have died after leaving Libya in inflatable rafts. (Reuters/NAN)