Is the Council concerned about the increasing number of African immigrants arriving illegally in the Canary Islands? Given that those immigrants who cannot be repatriated within 40 days are allowed to stay in Spain, is the Council concerned that they may be free to move elsewhere in the EU? What action does the Council consider is appropriate to address this issue?
(FI) This answer drawn up by the Presidency is not in itself binding on the Council or its members.
The comprehensive approach to immigration adopted last December deals with priority measures relating to Africa and the Mediterranean region with the aim of reducing migration pressures in those regions. The purpose of the measures is to reinforce cooperation and interaction between the Member States and to increase dialogue and cooperation with African States and the whole Mediterranean region.
The Council is following the progress of the implementation of the comprehensive approach. In addition, the European Council has urged the Commission to report on the progress achieved by the end of 2006.
A European and African ministerial meeting, organised by Morocco with the active support of Spain and France, was held in Rabat on 10 and 11 July 2006 to debate immigration and development. At the meeting an action plan was adopted dealing in particular with controlling illegal immigration into the EU from Central and West Africa and the repatriation of illegal immigrants. All the States which took part in the meeting stressed their commitment to implementing the action plan as a matter of urgency.
As far as the situation in the Canaries is concerned, the EU has already taken action on account of the arrival of groups of illegal immigrants and has supported Spain with initiatives.
The initiatives in question include a visit to the Canaries by a fact-finding mission from the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (FRONTEX) to monitor the situation on the ground. FRONTEX has also proposed that a joint support group should be set up consisting of officials from FRONTEX and national experts from the Member States and sent to the Canaries.
In June 2006, FRONTEX reported to the Council the findings of a feasibility study concerning the creation of a Mediterranean Coastal Patrols Network operation involving EU Member States and North African countries (the MEDSEA project). Next, there are plans for a technical feasibility study of a monitoring system completely covering the southern sea borders (BORTEC).
FRONTEX has also launched two operations, HERA I and HERA II, with the aim of reducing the numbers of immigrants arriving in the Canaries. HERA I was launched on 15 July and is to run for three months. Experts from the Member States are being sent to help the Spanish authorities to identify immigrants. HERA II concerns monitoring of the sea areas off Mauritania and Senegal and around Cape Verde. The operation was launched in mid-August and is continuing. Italy, Portugal and Finland have helped the Spanish authorities. Spain has signed agreements with Mauritania and Senegal permitting Spanish vessels to patrol their territorial waters. A coordination centre has been set up in Tenerife manned by representatives of certain Member States, a representative of FRONTEX and officials representing the Spanish authorities.
There are plans to launch a similar operation in Malta with the aim of reducing the numbers of migrants arriving there (the JASON I operation). The operation will fall into two parts: identifying and repatriating would-be illegal immigrants found at sea and joint patrols in Libya's coastal waters.
Finally, the Council has begun consideration of a Commission proposal for a regulation establishing a mechanism for the creation of Rapid Border Intervention Teams.
The Honourable Members' attention is also drawn to the fact that, in addition, the European Union is currently formulating a strategy for joint administration of the external borders. Reinforcing such joint administration is among the priorities on the working programme of the Finnish Presidency, and it is discussed in detail in the Commission's communication of July 2006 on policy priorities in the fight against illegal immigration of third-country nationals. In the communication, the Commission lists priority sectors in which measures should be implemented and/or continued, and measures which in its opinion should be adopted.