EU musters resources against illegal migration from Africa
A small flotilla of boats backed by aircraft is about to sally forth from Europe's coasts to the waters off west Africa to stop illegal migrants risking their lives to reach the wealthy bloc.
With thousands of Africans braving the perilous journey to Europe's southern coasts of Spain, Malta and Italy, the European Union's 25 nations want to take a tougher line.
"We are moving toward a militarization of the management of this crisis," said Daphne Bouteillet-Paquet of human rights group Amnesty International's EU office.
Fortress Europe "is a cliche but it remains true," she said.
The sea patrol will try to intercept illegal migrants before they leave African waters and head for the Canary Islands, where more than 10,000 landed this year, compared with around 4,700 last year. Hundreds more are believed to have died on the way.
Elizabeth Collett, of the Brussels-based European Policy Center, agreed with the fortress description.
"It is an easy metaphor but also an accurate one to some extent. (EU) member states find it much easier to take steps to fight illegal immigration than to agree on legal migration."
The month-long EU Canaries mission, coordinated by the newly created EU border agency Frontex, will only involve a few boats, aircraft and immigration experts sent by a dozen states, Gil Arias, Frontex's deputy director, told Reuters.
Spain last month asked other countries for five patrol boats, five helicopters and an airplane for the mission.
Frontex also recently organized the first joint EU flight to expel eight illegal migrants from France, Poland and Austria to Georgia and some of its neighbors, Arias said.
But these first modest missions are more than a symbolic show of solidarity, and more will follow, he said. The European Commission will propose draft legislation in July to make it easier to put together European sea patrols.
Spain: No more room for migrants