WARSAW: The European Union should be prepared for more migrant crises like the ones on the Greece-Turkey and Poland-Belarus borders, the head of the EU’s border agency told AFP in an interview.
Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri also said the agency was working with Polish authorities to organise repatriations of up to 1,700 migrants to Iraq by charter flights in the coming weeks.
“This is not the first time that the EU has been faced with attempts at — call it blackmail, call it geopolitical blackmail, call it a hybrid threat,” Leggeri said.
He compared the current situation to the days of clashes seen in February 2020 when Greece tried to block tens of thousands of migrants who were deliberately let through by Turkey.
“It should open the eyes of people who have not understood that migration flows can be manipulated for political ends against the European Union to obtain something,” he said.
“We have to prepare ourselves for situations like this which can arise quite quickly,” he said, speaking at Frontex’s headquarters in a Warsaw skyscraper.
- Charter flights planned -
Created in 2004, Frontex has become the first EU agency to build up a standing, uniformed force. It aims to have 10,000 border guards by 2027, up from the current 2,200 officers.
While it is not directly involved on the Poland-Belarus border, it has around 100 border guards and 40 vehicles stationed on the Lithuania-Belarus border.
Leggeri said Frontex was also working with Polish authorities and the EU to obtain necessary permission from Iraq to set up a series of charter flight for repatriations.
“We will have potentially 1,500 or 1,700 people to repatriate in the coming weeks,” he said.
A few thousand migrants are believed to be currently at the border between Poland and Belarus, including a group of around 1,800 near the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing.
The EU accuses Belarus of deliberately bringing the migrants to the border as a way of putting pressure on the EU.
Belarus denies this and says Poland should let them in.
Leggeri said there were 25,000 Polish soldiers and border guards deployed in the area, as well as thousands more police.
Poland has also said it will begin building a permanent barrier on the border next month — a plan that Leggeri said would help the work of border guards because it would reduce the number of irregular crossings and therefore of controversial returns.
“At least when there is a barrier we are not accused of pushbacks because we know where the border is and people physically cannot create a situation that is legally ambiguous for us,” he said.
“A very annoying part of the job for border guards is when there are legal ambiguities,” Leggeri said.
Poland has been heavily criticised by non-governmental organisations for its policy of pushbacks, which have left many migrants stranded between the two countries often for weeks on end in dire conditions and freezing temperatures.
Frontex has itself been accused by non-governmental organisations of failing to intervene in illegal pushbacks of migrants on the Greece-Turkey maritime border.