Terrorism, crime, migration: Nine EU agencies active because of Ukraine war

Most of the action is being taken by Europol and Frontex, which together have deployed around 280 staff to the region. Eurojust collects evidence against war crimes. The agency for the operation of large databases, on the other hand, plays a minor role.

At the end of March, the European Council called on its member states to better coordinate the reception of refugees from Ukraine. In addition to this ten-point plan and initial emergency financial aid of €668 million, the government in Kiev is being supported by individual member states in the security sector with military aid against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The EU is providing €2.5 billion for this purpose. On 25 July 2022, the European Investment Bank approved an additional €1.6 billion aid package for reconstruction.

Less well known is the support provided by EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) agencies, some of which are also carrying out extensive operations in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. As a „network of JHA agencies“, they published a joint statement with a „commitment to assist“ just two weeks after the war began. Some of them participate in the „Working Group on Integrated Political Crisis Response“, through which the EU aims to react on security incidents. A recently published overview describes the different activities.

Early warning alerts and liaison officers

For example, Europol has activated all support capacities through its five „Operational Centres“. They are located at the headquarters of the police agency in The Hague and cover different spectrums from serious organised crime, cybercrime, terrorism and financial and economic crime. The „Operations and Analysis Centre“ also makes relevant contributions.

In the centres, Europol produces analyses and early warning reports on terrorism, human trafficking or trafficking in firearms and explosives. According to media reports, the agency has had indications of organised arms smuggling from Ukraine since the spring.

Ukraine has posted a liaison officer to Europol for coordination with Europol centres. The post is intended to facilitate cooperation with Ukrainian law enforcement authorities. Europol itself maintains a liaison office there under an agreement signed in 2016; however, the agencies‘ report leaves open whether this is currently staffed.

Online surveillance and search for „extremists“

„Operational surveillance“ is also being conducted online. Europol is supposed to shut down certain Telegram channels that are used for „pro-Russian disinformation and fake news“. This is the responsibility of the „Internet Referral Unit“, which, according to its own information, also searches for „violent extremists“ travelling to Ukraine.

The unit is supposed to uncover the communication, financing and recruitment of volunteers. It is not clear from the report whether this also extends to fighters on the Ukrainian side. Requests for such investigations have come from Ukraine and Moldova, Europol writes.

With the activation of the „Emergency Protocol for Law Enforcement Agencies“, Europol also wants to support Ukraine and its neighbours in the event of major cross-border cyber attacks. EU member states have already rehearsed such responses in cyber exercises, with Russia repeatedly in the focus.

War crimes and sanctions investigations

Together with Eurojust, the agency for judicial cooperation in criminal matters, Europol coordinates cross-border investigations into war crimes in Ukraine. The agencies are to support European and international courts in gathering evidence and have set up the analysis project „Central International Crimes“ for this purpose. Interested member states can participate in this and share their information in a database. Europol’s tasks here include „online monitoring“ in search of material that may be linked to war crimes.

Europol also checks EU sanctions lists against information in its own databases in Operation „OSCAR“ and looks for links to organised crime and money laundering. Corresponding support is also being provided in the detection and seizure of Russian assets in relation to the Ukraine war. The EU Commission has set up a „Freeze and Seize Task Force“ for this purpose.

Europol is also active in Ukraine’s neighbouring countries and supports so-called secondary security checks at the borders with Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova. The papers of refugees are checked and compared with European databases. With less than 20 employees, these operations are rather small.

More than 250 Frontex employees

Frontex has sent far more personnel to the EU’s external borders with Ukraine. As part of its Operation „Terra“, more than 250 border agency staff are currently in the region, most of them in Romania and Moldova. The government in Chişinău has concluded a status agreement with Frontex to this end. Frontex is supported in this by the European Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM), which started in 2005. The mandate of this EU security mission was expanded to include border protection tasks.

Following a ministerial conference of the „Moldova Support Platform“ in Berlin in April, EU and G7 member states agreed to provide substantial financial support and equipment and technology to the country, including drones, cameras and vehicles. Since July, the small Republic of Moldova has also been home to an „EU hub for internal security and border management“, with which the EU Commission intends to coordinate missions and operations.

For refugees from Ukraine – though not those who were in the country from a third state – the EU has issued the Temporary Protection Directive. All EU member states must transpose it into their national law and accept refugees without red tape. This is helped by the EU Asylum Agency (EUAA), which identifies needs and currently provides operational support to eleven countries in registering refugees.

Fundamental rights, equality and drug addiction

The Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) is also concerned with what is happening in Ukraine. „The war in Ukraine is the gravest threat to human rights in Europe of this generation,“ the FRA is saying in the nine-agency report. According to it, the main challenges include the situation of the millions of people displaced to the EU and local communities hosting them. They should be protected from violence and exploitation, hate speech and other dangers. To this end, the FRA holds talks with police and/or border authorities and travels to Europe’s external borders on observation missions.

Among the millions of Ukrainians who have fled, women with children make up the largest proportion, suffering from stress and trauma and also at risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking while fleeing. This falls within the remit of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), which as an EU agency also provides support in the area of gender mainstreaming.

Further assistance is provided by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMDDA) together, which aims to identify and respond to drug-related security and health threats. Here, however, the focus is on medical assistance in those countries most affected by the influx of people displaced from Ukraine.

Training to monitor open sources on the internet

With CEPOL, the EU maintains its own police academy, which also has the status of an agency. As is customary in such cases, the training institution has conducted online workshops on the impact of the Ukraine conflict on member states‘ law enforcement agencies. Further training could be provided at the request of the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice for authorities there, for example in the areas of forensics or surveillance of open sources on the internet.

The Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems (eu-LISA) is playing a rather secondary role by only increasing its „vigilance“ with regard to the databases it operates. The agency is offering „technical assistance“ to the Commission in developing a platform for the registration of refugees from Ukraine and is offering further support.

Image: The Europol director on a visit to Poland in March (Europol).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.

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