Spain introduces new Guardia Civil unit, reinforcing the militarisation of the southern border

The Spanish interior ministry has made a major change in the structure of the Guardia Civil, merging existing units in charge of operations against irregular migration via the Atlantic, the Strait of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea in a newly established ‘Borders and Maritime Police Command’ (Mando de Fronteras y Policía Marítima), a move that will further militarise Spain’s border control operations.


The purpose of the new unit is to strengthen existing capabilities to stop migrant flows from arriving from Northern and Western African countries, in light of “the foreseeable trend for the medium and long-term future of the migratory phenomenon,” which “suggests that migratory flows will increase considerably”, says the Royal Decree setting out the changes.

The consolidation of the post, which entails merging two existing units, was approved on 4 August. Although some changes were received with dismay by the Guardia Civil, such as giving the National Police primary competence for the National Centre for Critical Infrastructure Protection (Centro Nacional de Protección de Infraestructuras Críticas), in terms of border control the role of the Guardia Civil has been strengthened.

This Borders and Maritime Police Command will be one of four directly under the Ministry of Interior’s Directorate-General of the Guardia Civil, and it will oversee the work of two offices: the Prosecutor and Borders Office and the Coast and Marine Police Office.

The former will work on of drug trafficking, smuggling and fraud. It will also perform surveillance of and controls at borders, ports and airports as well as specific activities to control irregular migration by sea. The latter will be tasked with the direction and coordination of Frontex’s activities, as well as the National Coordination Center of the European Border Surveillance System, EUROSUR.

The news comes after a weekend when at least 40 people died at sea during their attempt to reach Spain from Mauritania and when improved weather conditions in the Mediterranean tend to favour an increase in departures from Northern and Western African countries.

The establishment of this new command is accompanied by another key feature of EU migration policy: externalisation. Immediately after setting up the new Borders and Maritime Police Command, Fernando Grande-Marlaska (the Spanish interior minister) visited Algeria to discuss coordinated efforts to tackle migrant smuggling and human trafficking.

According to an internal European Commission document consulted by El País, which references figures gathered by Frontex, since 1 January this year Algerians have made up 25% of arrivals by sea to Spain. The IOM puts the figure higher, estimating that Algerian citizens make up to 33% of all arrivals in Spain. 

The Guardia Civil is a law enforcement body with military status that is in charge of border control operations. Certain other recent changes to its structure – which were applied by Grande-Marlaska after alleged discrepancies in investigations that linked demonstrations on International Women’s Day with the spread of COVID-19 in Spain – were hotly debated and seen as politically motivated.

This introduction of the Borders and Maritime Police Command, however, has been introduced with the tacit approval of the country’s different political parties, perhaps because it fits within the general tendency across European countries of increased border militarisation.

In a similar vein, the UK recently appointed a “small boat commander” (official title: ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’), to oversee the reinforcement of controls on the English channel and discourage people from setting off the perilous journey from France to the UK.

Sources

Real Decreto 734/2020, de 4 de agosto, por el que se desarolla la estructura orgánica básica del Ministero del Interior

Fernando Lázaro, Fernando Grande-Marlaska deja sin ciberseguridad a la Guardia Civil, El Mundo, 6 August 2020

 

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