EU members patrol sea for illicit travel

Aim is to halt foreigners' illegal entry into Europe


MADRID, Spain - Ships from five European nations have begun patrolling the Mediterranean in an attempt to control the growing numbers of foreign immigrants trying to enter Europe illegally.

Spain's interior minister, Angel Acebes, formally introduced yesterday the effort, called Operation Ulysses, in which police, customs and navy ships from Spain, Britain, France, Italy and Portugal are patrolling sections of Europe's Mediterranean coastline with the aim of detaining and deterring the hundreds of small, overcrowded boats from Africa.

It is the first time that European Union members, who are supposed to harmonize policies on all aspects of migration, including repatriation and asylum, have worked together in this way. The handling of legal and illegal immigration still varies widely.

The coordinated effort to clamp down on illegal immigrants and the trafficking rings that transport them was proposed at the European Union meeting in Seville last year. The operation "could be and should be" the precursor to a common European border police force, Acebes said.

Spain and Italy are the chosen destinations for many would-be immigrants, but the issue of undocumented migrants extends beyond the countries that are points of entry because of the ease of movement between member states.

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