THE Spanish government yesterday claimed that it has laid the foundations for a European Border Police Force by launching a multi-national EU crack down on illegal immigration. Spanish Home Secretary, Angel Acebes, unveiled the Spanish initiative in Palma, which is to be the control centre for the first phase of the operation, yesterday. Operation Ulises involves customs officials and border police and patrol vessels from the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Italy and the host country Spain and is being launched in two phases. The first in Balearic waters and the second will stretch the anti-illegal immigration net round to the Canary Islands with the operational final report being presented to the European Union Council of Justice and Immigration Ministers which will use the document for reference when deciding future border control policies. Britain has committed the 43-metre customs launch Seeker, with a crew of 12, to the operation while Italy and Portugal have dispatched two naval frigates to Palma. Spain has two Guardia Civil launches with crew of ten and 11 respectively participating in the operation and France has sent a coastal patrol vessel. Greece, Norway, Holland, Germany, Poland and Austria have also sent representatives but only to observe this first phase which concludes on February 8. The Home Secretary said that this initiative could be the seed and should be the pillar for a European Border Police Force providing a safe, just and free region in which we can live. Acebes is confident the operation will prove a success there's a lot at stake adding that this is the first time that EU countries have worked together protecting maritime frontiers and ports. The operational headquarters are in fact in Algeciras, although this first phase will be controlled from Palma with the pricipal aims being to crackdown on illegal immigration, combat human trafficking mafias and be on hand to provide assistance in the event of a nautical accident. Acebes explained yesterday that the Spanish government wants to be strict but fair on immigration, we must be fair and kind to legal immigrants, but strict on illegals and stop the trafficking of human beings many of whom end up being forced to work in harsh conditions on the black market. Operation Ulises is one of the initiatives which Spain devised during its presidency of the European Union last year as it pushed ahead with plans to involve the judiciary and interior ministries of all 15 member states in creating one great security zone hence the Home Secretary's eagerness to see Operation Ulises lead to a communal border police force. The operation, which involves a total of 161 EU customs officials and will cost over one million euros to run, will involve each of the vessels establishing six-mile wide rectangular radar filters with all vessels detected in that area required to identify themselves before being inspected by customs officials and, when necessary, escorted to the nearest EU port where the vessels, crew and passengers will be dealt with. Acebes said that while on the one hand the EU has advanced in dealing with immigration legislation, practical solutions are needed, hence all European Union countries are eagerly watching this pilot project. We're helping to create a European Union police force, he added.
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