′Migration is a phenomenally complex issue′ | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.10.2013
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'Migration is a phenomenally complex issue'

The president of the European Commission pledged 30 million euros more this year to help deal with the migration crisis in Italy. But is money really enough? Inside Europe talks to Frontex spokesperson Izabella Cooper.

DW: The problem of incoming migration to the Italian island of Lampedusa has continued this week. European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso visited the island and was visibly moved at the sight of so many coffins and the scale of the human tragedy. He pledged 30 million more euros to help deal with the migration crisis. But with more boats arriving almost every day, is this really enough? Frontex is the EU's external border control organisation and they coordinate the Mediterranean operations too. Izabella Cooper is their spokesperson. She spoke to Inside Europe's Emma Wallis about what more needs to be done to try and solve the crisis.

Izabella Cooper, Frontex Spokesperson: You see, the Mediterranean sea is a gigantic area, it's about 2 and a half million square kilometers wide, so a better situation and awareness and more patrols would be of help. Frontex has been present in Italy for seven years. This year alone, we have been present there with two operations, both of which have been extended. For the time being, Frontex doesn't have additional funds to increase these operations, but we are looking into the possibility of putting some other projects on hold so that we can reallocate our internal resources to support Italy. Obviously the level of support is not entirely dependent on the finances, but is also reliant on the member states to provide experts and technical equipment to support these operations.

Picture of an overcrowded boat with illegal migrants arriving near Lampedusa

Unsafe vessels and overcrowding does nothing to deter migrants desperate to escape poverty and war

How much are your two operations costing at the moment in Italy?

Frontex runs two operations, which cost at the moment six and half million euros. We are looking at the moment at increasing that budget, but at the moment we deploy each month, four vessels and two helicopters to provide additional assistance to the Italian authorities. We also deploy screeners and de-briefers who conduct interviews with the migrants and this is another type of assistance that we provide the Italians with.

So the main part of the operation is essentially a search and rescue operation, but isn't that a bit like trying to plug a hole in a dam with your thumb?

Coffins of victims from a shipwreck off Sicily are seen in a hangar of the Lampedusa airport October 5, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello)

Will this 'unprecedented tragedy' spur the EU to further action to solve this crisis?

Well the primary aim of these operations is to increase surveillance for border control purposes. But search and rescue obviously starts if the migrants on boats are in distress. This is when the absolute priority becomes saving lives, but our focus is on border control. What is very important to stress is that border control is not the panacea, it is only one piece of a bigger puzzle as it will not address the root causes of why the migrants try to come to the EU using such unsafe means. So what is needed is an integrated and more global approach to migration, covering four main aspects. One would be bilateral agreements on border management to ensure control of the borders. Secondly, an asylum system which is common to all EU countries. But the possibility to apply for asylum assumes access to the territory, which means that you first have to get here. Basically no EU country is allowing asylum claims to be made to consulates in source countries or the region. So that forces those wishing to apply for asylum to travel to the EU border. Thirdly, and most obviously, there are peace building and emergency aid and regional development programs that would ensure that people don't put their lives at risk in the first place and that aid is given to those who require it in situ. So removing the root causes for the grounds for asylum in those in source countries. But that is a clearly very long term and difficult thing to do. Lastly, there is the link with the labor market, because migration is intimately linked to the job market, and job opportunities. But all these matters need to be addressed on the political level and the Commission has been attempting to do this over the year with its global approach to migration. But the subject is phenomenally complex and Frontex is exclusively an operational agency and we clearly have no influence over such decisions. So Frontex doesn't have bilateral agreements, that I spoke about before, in place with any of the points of departure countries, be they Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, or Egypt, so these are signed by the member states and they vary in the nature of the measures taken but we cannot enter into their details.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (L) and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta during a joint news conference in Lampedusa, Italy, (Photo: EPA/CORRADO LANNINO)

Barroso pledged 30 million euros to help ease the problem in Italy

You feel at this point it almost seems cheaper for the European Union to operate safe ferry services as opposed to putting lots of money into trying to patrol these borders which are obviously very porous, and having to search and rescue people when they do get into trouble. But would that eventually cost more because it would be easier to migrate to Europe?

Well, you look first of all at the reasons why people get on unsafe boats. And the smuggling networks charge an enormous amount of money to put the migrants on unsafe boats and unseaworthy fishing vessels, overcrowding people and then setting them off to sea with malfunctioning engines with no navigation systems. So, first of all, you need to look at the facilitation networks and what they do. In terms of a reply, again, this is a political question which has to be addressed on the political level. We're an operational agency, and again, it's very difficult for us to talk about this.

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