UK, EU Agree to Work Together Against Illegal Migration

| February 28, 2024
UK, EU Agree to Work Together Against Illegal Migration

The British government and Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, have agreed on a working arrangement to fight illegal migration.

On 23 February 2024, Hans Leijtens, Frontex Executive Director, and Phil Douglas, Director General of the United Kingdom (UK) Border Force, signed the arrangement.

UK Home Office Secretary James Cleverly and European Union (EU) Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson were also present during the event.

Last year, around 30,000 people crossed the English Channel from France to the UK. It’s a third lower than 46,000 in 2022. However, the BBC reported that the total was still the second highest on record.

In March 2023, the UK also signed an agreement with France to work together to stop illegal entrants via the English Channel.

UK and EU committed to improving border security

In a statement, Cleverly said organized immigration crimes are “global challenges that require shared solutions and ambitions.”

“Our landmark working arrangement between the UK and Frontex is another crucial step in tackling illegal migration, securing our borders, and stopping the boats,” he added.

Leijtens said in a press release that the arrangement shows the “collaborative dedication to a safer, more secure Europe.”

“With this agreement, together we reaffirm our commitment to enhancing the security and management of our borders,” he stated.

This announcement follows an agreement in May 2023 between UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to develop a new UK-Frontex working arrangement.

UK, Frontex cooperation to start as soon as possible

The arrangement aims to enhance the UK and EU’s operational response to illegal migration and organized immigration crime.

It establishes a platform for coordinated actions between the UK’s Border Force and the EU’s Frontex across various areas.

One area is exchanging information and intelligence, situational awareness, and risk analysis.

This includes migration trends, border surveillance, battling document fraud, and returns and border management.

Another is training to enhance the capabilities of the UK and EU border agencies, enabling them to benefit from each other’s effective strategies.

The arrangement also entails teaming up on relevant research and developing new technologies to protect borders.

This includes building on the UK’s drone technology and airborne surveillance to combat illegal migration.

The UK-EU cooperation also applies to operational and technical areas. This includes sending human resources for observation, coordination, or advisory roles.

Both parties also hope to expand the work together in the longer term.

Reinforcing EU’s Schengen Area external borders

In February 2024, the European Parliament and the European Commission agreed to amend the EU’s new border code to tackle illegal migration.

The EU will limit and reduce operating hours of border crossing points to prevent the use of migrants as instruments of conflict and destabilization.

It has also introduced new transfer protocols for arresting illegal third-country nationals and returning them to the state they arrived from.

The EU will also introduce two significant border security improvements: the Entry/Exit System (ESS) and the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS)

The EES will record entries and exits electronically instead of stamping passports upon arrival at the EU’s external border.

Under the EES, short-stay visa holders and visa-exempt travelers must register biometric data such as fingerprint or facial scans at the border.

It will also record refusals of entry, making it easier to identify those without permission to enter and those who have overstayed in the Schengen Area.

Additionally, the EES will detect individuals using fake identities and passports.

On the other hand, the ETIAS is a new electronic document required for visa-exempt travelers entering the Schengen Zone.

It aims to improve security by pre-screening travelers and identifying individuals who pose security threats before they arrive.

The EES is set to be enforced in October 2024, while the ETIAS will be implemented in mid-2025.

Strengthening the UK border

In 2022, the UK government passed the National Borders Act of 2022, which aims to improve the security of the UK border.

The legislation aims to fully digitize the UK border and deter illegal entries and threats to national security before they reach the UK.

Digitizing the UK border entails replacing immigration status with electronic records, or eVisas, and enforcing the new Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA).

The UK is working towards one digital immigration platform by 2025, managing migration and deterring people from staying in the country illegally.

It is currently transitioning all physical immigration documents, such as biometric residence cards and passport stamps and stickers, to eVisas.

On the other hand, the ETA works similarly to the ETIAS. It is not a visa but a digital travel permit for all travelers visiting the UK without a visa.

Aside from improving border security, the ETA streamlines travel for pre-screened low-risk individuals.

Currently, only visitors from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Jordan benefit from the new UK ETA system.

By 2024, the UK government expects all visa-exempt travelers to have an ETA before traveling to the UK.