One drone if by land, two if by sea

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

The European Union wants to allow member states to use drones to keep an eye on illegal immigrants crossing into the union’s territory, including those coming by sea.

The European Border Surveillance System, a $410 million proposal, seeks to “reduce the loss of lives at sea and the number of irregular immigrants entering the EU undetected.”

It also suggests increasing “internal security by preventing cross-border crimes, such as trafficking in human beings and the smuggling of drugs.”

The EU intends to create a mechanism to streamline cooperation and information exchange between member states and the agency, which currently does not exist at the EU level. It also would allow European member states to coordinate with countries where illegal immigrants often originate.

Along with satellite surveillance, tracking suspected criminal vessels and monitoring high-risk ports, the plan would allow the use of “manned and unmanned aerial vehicles” to monitor borders.

Calls for EU action grew dramatically after 54 immigrants, mainly Eritreans, died fleeing their home countries when their inflatable boat sank off of the Italian coast. Only one man survived.

“EUROSUR will help detect and fight criminal networks’ activities and be a crucial tool for saving migrants who put their lives at risk trying to reach EU shores,” said Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s commissioner for home affairs.

However, critics charge that the program would do nothing to stop criminal activity or help immigrants who do fall into trouble.

“Drones are very expensive and they don’t help,” said Ska Keller, a German member of the European Parliament. “Even if a drone detects a vessel, it can’t do anything for them. You need to have actual people there, and having a drone doesn’t guarantee that.”

The United Kingdom and Ireland will not be participating, but Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein — non-EU members — will be joining the effort.

Drones could become more prevalent in the east of the Mediterranean as well if Turkey’s demands for drones to aid the rebellion in Syria are met.

“The Turks have been desperate to improve their weak surveillance, and have been begging Washington for drones and surveillance,” Reuters reports.

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