EU border agents too busy to screen migrants

A record 280,000 illegal border crossings were detected in the EU last year

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Border agents are so busy dealing with the record number of migrants entering the European Union that they can no longer screen people properly, leaving them to slip deeper into the EU unidentified, Europe’s border agency Frontex said Tuesday.

In its migration analysis for 2015, Frontex said resources are focused on migrants’ “immediate care, rather than screening or obtaining information on their basic characteristics such as nationality.”

Once rescued, these migrants “continue their journey to other member states,” the agency said, and that not knowing who is traveling within the EU is “a vulnerability.”

A record 280,000 illegal border crossings were detected in the EU last year, Frontex said. More than 170,000 came through the Mediterranean, chiefly from Libya - a 277 percent increase over 2013. Most were from Syria and Eritrea.

EU leaders last week pledged to double the number of ships and aircraft in Frontex’s Triton border control operation in the southern Mediterranean. They also decided to triple the operation’s budget, back to the levels used to fund Italy’s navy search and rescue mission, Mare Nostrum, which was phased out late last year.

Some of the assets for the expanded operation, which include border and migration experts, will not be available for several months, and many are only being offered for a month or two.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Tuesday applauded the recent decision to beef up the border patrol agency but saying more “robust search and rescue” operations were needed.

“The priority should be given to protecting human rights and dignity and saving human lives,” Ban told reporters after meeting with Pope Francis and visiting an Italian navy vessel involved in Mediterranean rescues. “Everyone knows that much more needs to be done. That’s why I’m here.”

Meanwhile, Nils Muiznieks, the human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, said Tuesday that the new resources offered by some leaders “will probably not be sufficient to meet the challenges the EU faces.”

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