Border security in the spotlight at the 29th “Jeudi de la sécurité”

The latest “Jeudi de la sécurité” was held on 30 May 2024 at Espace Hamelin in Paris. This edition highlighted the challenges and issues related to border security, focusing first on the example of Mayotte and opening up into a wider round table exploring recent legislation and innovative technological solutions available.

Mayotte Deputy calls for European intervention for border reinforcement

The event began with an interview with Estelle Youssouffa, Deputy of Mayotte and Member of the Commision of Foreign Affairs, interviewed by Mélanie Benard-Crozat, Editor-in-chief of S&D Magazine. Estelle Youssouffa spoke earnestly about the problems border control and mass immigration is causing in Mayotte, especially given the grey area the territory finds itself in as the United Nations does not recognise its border with Comoros, despite the population of Mayotte voting to remain part of France while Comoros chose to separate. The Deputy cited the economic disparity between the poverty in Comoros and the situation in Mayotte as a motivation for mass migration to the island, which in the last 20 years has gone from a population of almost no Comoriens to 60% of the population today. According to Estelle Youssouffa, this mass migration has put a significant strain on the education and health care systems of the territory, even leading to outbreaks of cholera and a lack of space for Mahoran children at schools. She called for the intervention of Frontex and the European Union like in Italy in Greece as she cited that Mayotte, as a French territory is “a southern border of the European Union” and a “gateway to Europe.” The Deputy underlined the exasperation and desperation of Mayotte’s population with regard to what she deemed to be a “migration crisis” and highlighted the importance of the French government and European Union to protect its borders.

After the interview with Deputy Estelle Youssouffa, Mélanie Benard-Crozat passed the microphone over to Amélie Rives, Content Manager at S&D Magazine. Amélie Rives led a round table on the theme of “Securing borders and protecting citizens” with Frédéric Perlant, PCN member Cluster 3 – Horizon Europe for the Ministry of Higher Education and Research; Damien Bajard, Key Account Sales Manager, Elistair; and Tania Racho, specialist in fundamental rights, EU rights and international rights for the European Union Agency for Asylum. Each expert focused on the subject according to their background and industry perspective, offering a wide lensed picture of the subject at hand.

Border control: Sorting who has a right to asylum

Tania Racho began by discussing the European Pact on Migration and Asylum, a reform on the European rules for the control of Europe’s external borders. She underlined that the Pact was recently introduced and that a series of regulations would not be applicable until 2026, so it is not yet possible to measure the impact. The main aim behind the Pact is to sort the illegal immigrants who arrive spontaneously at the external borders of Europe into potential refugees and those who are not eligible for asylum. She cited that these illegal immigrants currently represent about 30,000 people a year, or 0.5% of the population of Europe.

The European Union classifies people arriving illegally as mixed arrivals, and will therefore ensure that these people pass through sorting centres, detention centres, where they will be subjected to a number of tests, including vulnerability and state of health, as well as a thorough check of the European Union’s databases. There will also be a general check of the person’s profile.

Tania Racho emphasised that what is new in the Pact is the idea of border detention and sorting. She underlined that the technological challenge for this project is the interoperability between databases, which she said the European Union is finding it difficult to overcome, since this interoperability between the different databases was decided on in 2019 but has still not been put in place because it is complex to determine how different authorities that do not have access to all the databases will be able to have general information via a single platform.

Amélie Rives asked Tania Racho about the recent reform of the Schengen Code allowing European Member States to reinforce or reintroduce controls at their borders, i.e. at internal borders, for up to three years. Tania Racho explained that this reform was ultimately “a legal adaptation to what already exists” as many Member States had already been renewing their right to control internal borders for different security reasons each time.

When the round table touched on the question of the use of drones as a tool for border control, Tania Racho highlighted the vital importance of a “human use” of technology, citing that drones should not be used for the purposes of “push back” as the consequences of this are often mortal, but should rather be used to ensure the safety of both border agents and illegal immigrants.

Innovative border control solutions adapted to concrete situations

Frédéric Perlant put forward that when it comes to border control, we are facing a double challenge: “we want to facilitate the crossing of borders for everything that is illegal, everything that is legitimate. And then on the other hand, we want to be able to block all that is illicit, all trafficking of all kinds, of goods and people, of terrorists, piracy and all other criminal acts.”

He explained that up until now, the approach that has been used for border control has been “very reactive”. Systems were put in place to react to border problems, which is what needs to be changed in his opinion. “We’re trying to switch to a proactive approach by focusing on foresight and anticipation.”

Frédéric Perlant highlighted that in the past there has been a major focus on maritime borders, and stated that this will shift towards a focus on land borders and innovative tools to secure them. He noted that there are three major priorities for this technology, and that these will evolve according to shifting geopolitical factors. This first priority he listed was interoperability, namely the need to overcome challenges in this area. The second was subjects dealing specifically with border crossings, i.e. identity checks, checks on goods, detection, recognition, identification (the ability to identify what is passing through and to see whether it is legal or illegal, and to qualify it). The third priority was how to control borders while ensuring that the forces on the ground are safe.

He outlined that this is the specificity of the security part of the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme. “The cluster, what we call the security cluster, is a capabilities cluster. In other words, the subjects define needs in terms of capabilities.” According to Frédéric Perlant, border management users, for example customs officers, Frontex etc., especially need to be involved directly in the project, giving their feedback on solutions before they are applied to the market. The projects that will be selected to be used for border security will be authorised to use BOMIC, Frontex’s Border Management Innovation Centre. This means the project can be demonstrated and validated within BOMIC, i.e. within Frontex, with the whole community of players that Frontex has brought together. He outlined that this process presents distinct advantages: “Having Frontex open the doors for you to do your demonstrations and be evaluated is a good step before you can position your solution. So these border management projects are very close to market acceptance, and represent real innovations.”

Drones: Protecting citizens and saving lives

Damien Bajard mainly focused on the use of drones within the context of border control. He outlined that drones are being deployed increasingly across the security and defence sectors, including “everything from firefighting, civil security, units of the Ministry of the Interior and DNRED.” For Damien Bajard, drones are “a fantastic tool that’s going to be easy to use, that’s going to offer observation and surveillance capabilities that are going to add to or complement existing capabilities with aircraft or helicopters.” In this context, he stated that Elistair is “part of this technological evolution for land and sea border surveillance.”

He put forward that it was important to avoid an “overly warlike view of drones” in order to focus on the helpful innovations they can offer: “I really want us to put aside this warlike view of drones for a moment and focus on all the positive things they can do, above all, they can help people.” According to Damien Bajard, there are some “psychological barriers” to the implementation of drones, especially in France, as people are afraid they will invade the airspace and cause accidents. He refuted that “today’s drone technology enables cohabitation in a truly serene way.” He cited that the French Ministry of the Interior had issued a request for information on drone technology and that there had also been a request for information on drones for the maritime surveillance of Mayotte: “we’re constantly looking for new technologies that will make it easier for people to work in the field.”

With regard to technical improvements, Damien Bajard admitted that adverse weather conditions still had a big impact and that this was the main area for progress in drones.

Damien Bajard highlighted the importance of feedback from players in the field who are actually operating drones and working with other systems. He outlined that what he and his team are often asked to integrate drones into complete systems and collaborate with other systems. While drones have been in use for two or three decades now, he emphasised that we are still “in the early stages”, in both the military and civil sectors, and that it is feedback from users, from operational people, that enables manufacturers to make progress.

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