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EU: Aerial surveillance at the Greece-Turkey border: Frontex wants to buy a plane
30 April 2013
30.04.2013 - The EU border agency, Frontex, is looking to buy a plane that will allow it to undertake night-time surveillance of the land border between Greece and Turkey as part of a pilot project that will run from July until September. Aerial surveillance imagery will be used to guide the actions of border guards stationed on the ground, in a region where intensified border controls have already led to the death of migrants attempting to reach Europe by increasingly dangerous routes.
According to a procurement notice posted at the end of March on the Frontex website, the company that wins the contract "shall provide the necessary technical equipment and staff to perform aerial surveillance at the external EU land border between Greece and Turkey," using a manned plane that will have the Democritus International Airport near Alexandroupoulis as its base. 
As well as achieving the immediate aim of providing Frontex with increased surveillance capabilities, the acquisition of a plane is also intended to "further develop the Technical Equipment Pool by establishment of new category of equipment with higher level of availability, thus to increase Frontex own operational capability," boosting "the development of Frontex strategy for acquisition of its own technical resources."
It is likely to come as a surprise to some that Frontex is seeking to purchase a manned aircraft rather than an unmanned drone. Although the agency has shown significant interest in acquiring drones and other unmanned aerial surveillance equipment such as aerostatic balloons, a document published last week says that the aircraft should be able to carry a pilot and a minimum of one additional passenger. 
The procurement notice says that: "The dedicated aerial mean [sic] shall fly on Greek territory not closer than 1.5 [nautical miles] to the border line. The flights will be performed mainly during night. The results from the aerial surveillance shall be transmitted in real time to a mobile ground station and forwarded to the border patrols, deployed in the operational area during the flight."
The plane will be used for surveillance in one 30-day period between July and September, with "at least two consecutive flights per night" making up "at least 6 hours flights per day." If there is a "case of urgency defined by Frontex the Contractor may be required to perform additional flights, but the total number of flying hours should not exceed 200 hours within a period of 30 days."
The winning contractor will also be obliged to provide a "mobile, autonomous ground station based on a 4WD [four-wheel-drive] vehicle" with the "capability for continuous operation - not less than 6 hours."
The ground station will give officers "simultaneous functionality of all the built-in systems," and access to imagery from sensors mounted on the plane. Contractors are also invited to provide the option for remote control of the plane's sensors by officers in the ground station.
There will also be an obligation for the plane's crew to prepare a report after each flight. Alongside administrative details, the reports will include:
- Suspicious cross-border activities monitored and detailed description of the area and location;
- Other illegal activities detected i.e. smuggling, etc.;
- Measures taken and authorities informed (including search and resuce);
- List of gathered documentary evidences [sic] (e.g. photographs, video data, sketches);
- Any additional information required by Frontex or local authorities.
A growing presence
Frontex is already highly active at the Greek-Turkish border. Poseidon Land, a Frontex Joint Operation that involves border guards from 25 EU Member States and Schengen Associated Countries, has been ongoing since 2011 when it replaced the first Frontex Rapid Border Intervention Team (RABIT), which was deployed in 2010. The purchase of a plane demonstrates a further increase in the potential for controlling measures.
The Greek authorities have also taken steps of their own to limit the number of people entering the country, with the help of significant EU funding. Last December the construction of a 10.5 km fence was finished. Topped with razor wire, the fence runs along a section of the River Evros frequently used by migrants as a crossing point into Europe.
In October it was reported that "the deployment [by the Greek authorities] of an additional 1800 officers along the Evros River at the beginning of August" led to the number of migrants crossing the Evros dropping from "over 2000 a week in the first week of August to little over 200 in the second week." 
But this has not improved the situation for migrants trying to reach Europe. John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International has noted that the tightening of border controls in the Evros region has led to people taking "more and more dangerous routes." 
While some people may be deterred permanently by the Evros fence and increased numbers of border guards, in the main these policies "have transferred the problem to the Greek islands," according to a recent Council of Europe report.  In some cases, those attempting to reach the islands have drowned, adding to the number of people - now over 16,000 - who have since 1993 died due to the policies of "Fortress Europe". 
- Statewatch analysis: The rise of xenophobia and the migration crisis in Greece: The Council of Europe’s wake-up call: “Europe cannot afford to look away”
by Marie Martin (pdf), March 2012
- Millions of euros targeting border controls and returns
, Statewatch News Online, May 2012
- The reinforcement of Frontex and the intensification of cooperation with third countries
, Statewatch News Online, March 2012
- 16-year-old sans-papiers killed in FRONTEX-aided police pursuit
, Statewatch News Online, December 2011
 Frontex, Terms of Reference - Purchase of aerial surveillance service for the EU external land borders
 Frontex, "Purchase of aerial border surveillance for the EU external land borders" - Clarification Document No. 1
; see also Clarification Documents 2
 Frontex, Situational update: Migratory situation at the Greek-Turkish border
, 3 October 2012
 Amnesty, Refugees dying on dangerous routes to asylum in Europe
, 20 March 2013
 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Migration and asylum: mounting tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean
, 232 January 2013
 UNITED, List of 16264 documented refugee deaths through Fortress Europe