FRONTEX announced on 31 January that it is launching Joint Operation Themis effective 1 February. Themis replaces Joint Operation Triton in effect since 2014. The FRONTEX press statement does not provide many details as to what will change under JO Themis, though the FRONTEX statement says that “[t]he security component of Operation Themis will include collection of intelligence and other steps aimed at detecting foreign fighters and other terrorist threats at the external borders.”
Media reports also state that there will be an enhanced focus by FRONTEX on efforts to identify terrorists posing as boat refugees or migrants. If this is a major new focus, one has to wonder whether this may be a solution in search of a problem.
The FRONTEX statement quotes FRONTEX director Leggeri as saying that “[w]e need to be better equipped to prevent criminal groups that try to enter the EU undetected. This is crucial for the internal security of the European Union.” The Telegraph reported that “[t]he new naval operation in the Mediterranean was announced as it was claimed that up to 50 Islamic State fighters crossed the Mediterranean by boat from Tunisia and landed in Italy last year with the intention of carrying out terrorist attacks in Europe. The Guardian reported that Interpol drew up a list of suspected ISIL extremists who are believed to have arrived on the coast of Sicily between July and October last year. The list was reportedly sent by Interpol to the Italian interior ministry in November. Italian authorities and security experts were skeptical about the report, however. … Some Italian security analysts were doubtful about the story. ‘Terrorists never arrive in migrant boats – no serious terrorist organisation would take the risk of putting their trained people on board an unsafe boat which risks capsizing when hit by the first big wave,’ Andrea Margelletti, president of the Centre for International Studies, told the Italian news agency Adnkronos….”
Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is launching a new operation in the Central Mediterranean to assist Italy in border control activities.
The new Joint Operation Themis will begin on 1 February and will replace operation Triton, which was launched in 2014. Operation Themis will continue to include search and rescue as a crucial component. At the same time, the new operation will have an enhanced law enforcement focus. Its operational area will span the Central Mediterranean Sea from waters covering flows from Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Turkey and Albania.
“Operation Themis will better reflect the changing patterns of migration, as well as cross border crime. Frontex will also assist Italy in tracking down criminal activities, such as drug smuggling across the Adriatic,” said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.
The security component of Operation Themis will include collection of intelligence and other steps aimed at detecting foreign fighters and other terrorist threats at the external borders.
“We need to be better equipped to prevent criminal groups that try to enter the EU undetected. This is crucial for the internal security of the European Union,” Leggeri said.
As part of Operation Themis, Frontex will continue its presence in the hotspots in Italy, where officers deployed by the agency will assist the national authorities in registering migrants, including taking their fingerprints and confirming their nationalities.
Frontex vessels will continue search and rescue operations under the coordination of the responsible Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres. Last year, Frontex assisted in the rescue of 38 000 people at sea in operations in Italy, Greece and Spain.