The EU’s assistance to Greece in patrolling its border with Turkey is likely to become permanent. An emergency mission – which has provided up to 200 border guards since it was sent last November – is due to end early next month, when an extension granted in December expires.
The new, permanent mission will become a part of Operation Poseidon, launched in 2006 by Frontex, the EU’s border agency, to patrol Greece’s sea border with Turkey. Since then, migration routes have moved onshore, obliging Poseidon to shift its operations. Poseidon was too scattered to deal with a massive influx of illegal migrants across the Greek-Turkish land border last year and was replaced by the current emergency mission.
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Equipment and manpower
EU member states are reluctant to extend the emergency mission any further, because, under emergency rules, national contributions of equipment and manpower are mandatory. But there is a recognition that unless EU border guards are deployed, illegal migration could soar after the current mission ends on 3 March. The mission cut the number of daily detections from an average of 245 in October to 60-80 in January. “We cannot go from 180 [guards] to zero in one go,” a diplomat said. But another diplomat said that the member states were “angry” that Greece has not stepped up its own presence along the 200-kilometre border.
The European Commission hopes that a readmission agreement concluded with Turkey in January will also help stem the flow of illegal migrants to Greece. Member states’ interior ministers will discuss the agreement, which requires the backing of MEPs, on 24 February. However, Turkey has linked ratification of the agreement to progress in visa talks with the EU, as leverage on the many member states that are opposed to easier access for Turkish nationals.