The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee approved legislation on Tuesday evening to improve surveillance at the external borders of the Schengen area. The committee said protecting the lives of migrants and refugees, especially at sea, must be a key aim of the EU’s new “Eurosur” border surveillance system.
When using Eurosur, member states must respect migrants’ human rights and personal data, it added in a vote endorsing a draft law to establish the system. In 2011, over 90% of illegal border crossings took place in four EU countries: Spain, Malta, Italy and Greece.
The Eurosur system is designed to improve the “monitoring, detection, identification, tracking, prevention and interception of illegal border crossings”. But it must also serve to protect and save the lives of migrants and refugees, especially those in distress at sea, say MEPs. The committee amended the draft to ensure that the need to save lives is properly reflected throughout the legislation.
“Saving the lives of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea is absolutely necessary. Eurosur will improve cooperation between EU member states and the Frontex border control agency,” said rapporteur Jan Mulder (ALDE, NL) after the vote, adding that “Eurosur will also help to detect and prevent irregular migration and cross-border crime.”
Eurosur should improve the management of the EU’s external borders by stepping up information exchange among EU member states and with Frontex. This would include sharing standard graphical interfaces showing real-time data and intelligence from various authorities and surveillance tools, such as satellites or ship reporting systems. This information would be shared via a protected communication network.
Protecting human rights and personal data
When using Eurosur, EU countries must respect human rights and the “non-refoulement” principle, which prohibits returning anyone to a place where his or her life or freedoms could be threatened.
Full compliance with EU fundamental rights standards, including personal data protection, is also vital, says the approved text. MEPs amended the draft to restrict the range of cases in which personal data could be shared via Eurosur and prohibit any exchange of this data with third countries.
This Civil Liberties Committee vote gives Parliament’s rapporteur a mandate to start negotiations on the draft law with the Council. Once the two institutions reach an agreement and adopt the regulation, Eurosur could start work on 1 October 2013.
The regulation was adopted by 37 votes to 5, with 9 abstentions.