October 06, 2016 - 4:21 AM
KAPITAN ANDREEVO, Bulgaria - A new European border and coast guard force was officially launched Thursday at a checkpoint on the European Union's external border with Turkey in Bulgaria.
The new task force, launched at the Kapitan Andreevo crossing, was built from the border management agency Frontex because national coast guards were overwhelmed by the refugee emergency.
"From now onwards, the external EU border of one member state is the external border of all member states — both legally and operationally," said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship.
The service will have more than double Frontex's staff and new powers. EU countries will establish a pool of 1,500 guards and technical equipment to rapidly deploy to countries facing heavy migration flows.
Liaison officers would be stationed in EU states with external borders to monitor movements.
Fabrice Leggeri, the executive director of Frontex, said the agency will be able to offer operational support to neighbouring non-EU countries asking for assistance at their border and share intelligence on cross-border criminal activities.
Frontex has been unable to effectively control the external borders of the EU due to its limited powers and lack of sufficient staff.
The uncontrolled stream of migrants entering Europe led some countries to build fences on their borders, cutting off routes used by migrants to travel to northern European countries.
According to the EU, the long-term aim is to scrap border controls inside the bloc and to restore the passport-free Schengen Zone across the continent.
The new agency will be involved in efforts to repatriate migrants whose asylum claims are rejected or are considered a security threat. It also will be able to carry out border operations, including search and rescue operations on its own initiative, without waiting for a request from the country concerned.
Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016