Brussels – Frontex, the European Union's border and coastguard agency, has launched a new operation in the Central Mediterranean with an added focus on countering terrorist threats and ensuring security for Europe.
Cracking down on criminal activities
Operation Themis is replacing operation Triton, which was launched in 2014 to help Italy with its border control activities.
Themis will continue to feature search and rescue as one of its main components, however, it will also have "an enhanced law enforcement focus," Frontex says.
The operation will aim to crack down on criminal activities, such as drug smuggling, and will also collect intelligence in an effort to stop terrorists from entering the European Union.
"We need to be better equipped to prevent criminal groups that try to enter the EU undetected," said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.
Decline in asylum applications
In 2017, Frontex rescued 38,000 people who were trying to cross the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, the European Asylum Support Office said that the 28 EU countries plus Switzerland and Norway received 43 per cent fewer asylum applications in 2017 than in 2016.
A total of 707,000 people applied for asylum in the 30 European countries in 2017. Almost 100,000 of those applications were launched by Syrian nationals. They were followed by Iraqis (50,000), Afghans (47,000) and Nigerians (42,000).
The countries issued positive decisions on the requests in first instance in 40 per cent of the cases.