WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The European Union's external border agency has deployed dozens of officers to Poland's eastern border and various travel hubs across Europe to fight human trafficking and other forms of smuggling during the European football (soccer) championship.
Frontex expects more than 1 million people to enter Poland and Ukraine during the tournament that runs Friday through July 1, a huge increase compared to normal times, the agency's deputy director, Gil Arias Fernandez, said Tuesday.
Arias Fernandez said that criminals have tried to exploit the increased border traffic during huge sports events in the past to smuggle prostitutes as well as cigarettes, gasoline and other contraband. Though no specific cases have yet been detected, he said Frontex has launched operation "Euro Cup" mainly to fight human trafficking.
"Smugglers might think that they have more chances to cross with their victims undetected than in normal circumstances," Arias Fernandez told reporters at Frontex's headquarters, in Warsaw.
Posing an additional challenge for border guards is the fact that Poland lies within the EU and Ukraine outside the bloc. There will be a huge flow of people traveling between the two countries, and across a border that Poland tightened up when it joined the visa-free Schengen zone several years ago.
Arias Fernandez noted that Frontex gained some experience dealing with a football tournament co-hosted by an EU and a non-EU member in 2008, when the European football championship drew 1.2 million people to Austria and Switzerland.
Arias Fernandez said 130 European border officers from 23 European countries have recently been deployed to Poland's eastern border to back up the work of Polish border guards. Further officers are beefing up capacity at major airports that are major hubs for fans traveling from the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands.
Frontex is also sending 30 officers to five Ukrainian airports, though they will operate only as observers and will lack the power to make arrests. In exchange, Ukrainian, Russian and Croatian officers will be based in Poland, using their language or other knowledge to help detect criminals.
As a security precaution Poland also reestablished random border checks this week with Germany and other EU countries where borders fell away in 2007.