EU plans joint security force against illegal immigration

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The European Commission plans to create a joint Mediterranean security force to clamp down on illegal immigration from North Africa.

Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini was quoted in newspaper El Mundo as saying he had already told Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero about his plan for the new maritime police force. Dangerous boat journeys organised by smugglers to cross the Mediterranean from Morocco to Spain and Tunisia to Italy are one of the main ways clandestine migrants enter Europe. Thousands have died in the attempt, non-governmental organisations say.

"In the spring of 2006 we will be in a position to think about a Mediterranean guard, a force in which different European countries will participate with their ships and technology and police officers and border officials," Frattini was quoted as saying.

"The main thing is to avoid the trafficking of human beings," Frattini said.

He said a joint force would be more effective than current bilateral police co-ordination, such as the joint operations carried out by Spanish and Moroccan forces.

Italy, Frattini's home country, saw a 50 percent rise in the number of African migrants crossing to its shores by boat this year, the government has said. In Spain, lifeboats have rescued 5,700 migrants at sea this year and in the first half alone police arrested more than 400 people for aiding illegal immigration.

Spain and Italy are the easiest entry spots for illegal immigrants, particularly the islands off the African coast -- Spain's Canary Islands and Italy's Lampedusa -- which attract thousands of migrants from all over Africa hoping to reach mainland Europe.