COVID-19 had a significant impact on border operations in Europe throughout 2020, with passenger numbers decreasing and illegal migration attempts decreasing too, albeit by a much smaller percentage. Border and coast guard authorities also faced a human resource shortage, caused by high numbers of personnel on sick leave or quarantined.
In its annual risk analysis, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, says the pandemic will continue to impact and complicate operations as the path to recovery is “clouded with uncertainty” due largely to the emergence of variants as well as countries having different exit and entry requirements for the traveling public. In addition, the occurrence of false vaccination certificates as travel enablers, the possibility of a rise in the smuggling of genuine, counterfeit or deteriorated vaccines, and that of COVID19-related medical supplies and/ or personal protective equipment (PPE), may put additional pressure on border management authorities.
According to the risk analysis, as pandemic measures are lifted, criminals will revert to their pre-COVID-19 modi operandi and migration may be driven by unstable economies that have suffered particularly over the last twelve-eighteen months. The economic fallout from the pandemic may also push more people into a life of crime, including trans-border crimes such as drug, weapons, wildlife and people smuggling.
The pandemic has demonstrated that health threats must be assessed more thoroughly than in the past. Frontex says that so far no definition of ‘health risk’ has been commonly agreed at the EU level. The agency says a better understanding of how health risks are reported nationally is necessary in order to prepare a pre-warning system of future health related threats.
Looking further ahead, Frontex says the implications of megatrends such as demographic imbalances, resource scarcity and climate change will continue to provide the broad background on which to build an ever more effective European response to the challenges.