On 25 February, the day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
I received a report that 44,000 Ukrainians had already entered the European Union.
With waiting times at some border crossings – up to 20 hours.
I realised it was only the beginning.
That millions more would come.
A few days later I went to the different EU borders with Ukraine
I saw for myself the endless lines of women and children, tired and afraid.
With belongings hastily gathered.
I saw the solidarity of European citizens giving shelter and support.
And I saw the professionalism and dedication and humanity of border guards doing their duty.
Making sure people could cross the border swiftly and orderly.
Protecting the vulnerable – and the security of our Union.
Welcoming Ukrainian nationals and residents and refugees living there, who received immediate protection in the European Union.
After Member States unanimously accepted my proposal to activate the Temporary Protection Directive. For the first time ever.
4.3 million have now registered for protection in Europe.
We were also welcoming other nationalities from all around the world.
Stranded in Ukraine.
Around 270,000 people from third countries entered the EU from Ukraine.
Turkey, the US, Israel, India, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan and many other places.
So don’t believe Russian disinformation. We welcomed not only Ukrainians but everybody fleeing Putin’s war.
Like a young man from Congo just a few weeks ago, His name is Junior.
He studied in the East of Ukraine when Russia invaded.
He stayed at first, to continue his studies. But soon the situation became dangerous. And traumatic.
He reached out to Frontex.
Who helped him with the Polish authorities and the Congolese embassy to return home.
And now he is safe with his family.
So all of you can be proud.
The border guards of Member States bordering Ukraine. And the 300 Frontex colleagues helping them.
You have faced a great test, but you have met that test.
And are still meeting it every day.
So it’s s an honour for me to speak to you today.
You are all border police. You are all leaders.
From Europe and around the world.
You are a global community.
You understand each other. You share similar challenges. Working methods. Similar goals.
In one way though the European Union is different from other areas of the world.
Our Member States have abolished border controls between them.
So we share responsibility for security and border protection.
That’s why we’re building state of the art digital security systems at the European level.
Soon all of these systems will be operational and interoperable.
That will change the way border guards in the European Union work.
Making the EU more welcoming. So that when you come to the European Union, you will move through passport control without friction.
But also making the EU more secure. With border guards instantly establishing someone’s identity.
Wrongdoers will no longer be able to switch passports and identities when they move between Member States.
Criminals and terrorists but also Russian agents, who use this modus operandi.
No internal border controls also mean we must have strong external border controls.
And this is Frontex’s mission. To support Member States to manage the EU border.
To prevent irregular migration, to fight criminals, cross border criminals, and keep citizens safe.
And to fulfil its mission we have made Frontex the biggest EU agency we have, with the largest budget. And a standing corps with the right to bear arms.
I am proud of the work that Frontex officers are doing every day in the European Union. Together with national border guards.
Helping people -- Like the Frontex officers who worked with Greek colleagues to rescue 92 naked migrants found in the Evros area.
Saving lives - the joint rescue at sea of 369 people by Spain’s Guardia Civil and Frontex.
Or officers saving the life of one passenger on the boat to Bari, suffering an epileptic fit.
Fighting crime – Frontex standing corps and Italian officers finding stolen cars while checking ferry departures to Tunisia
Or the officer of the standing corps now known to everyone as “Indiana Jones”.
Because he found 10 kilos of smuggled gold worth 600,000 euros in a car, at the Serbian- EU border.
All of this and more. That is your daily work.
And I am sure colleagues from all around the world here today have similar stories to tell.
This war will make Frontex’s crime fighting role even more important.
War is a catastrophe for people. But an opportunity for criminals.
With traffickers targeting vulnerable women among the millions of refugees.
A threat since day one of the war.
And one we have been fighting successfully in the EU.
Raising awareness and fighting criminals. So far there are few confirmed cases. But this may change. So we must remain alert.
And we’re working very closely with Ukraine to prevent firearms smuggling. Like happened after the Balkan wars.
We set up a security hub in Chisinau, Moldova. To counter criminal threats of all kinds.
We signed a Status Agreement with Moldova in record time. Allowing Frontex to conduct operations there, hand in hand with Moldovan border guards.
And just yesterday I was in Skopje together with President von der Leyen to sign a Status Agreement with North Macedonia.
I want also to conclude an agreement with Bosnia Herzegovina. And renew Status Agreements with Albania, Montenegro and Serbia. To allow Frontex to operate also on the borders between Western Balkan partners.
Just two days ago I proposed to start negotiations with all four.
And I want to look beyond Europe. The Atlantic route is dangerous and deadly. To meet this challenge I want Frontex to conclude Status Agreements with Mauritania and Senegal. The first from Africa.
It’s good that all of you are here today.
The EU can only be safe if our neighbours and partners are safe.
And we can only manage migration together.
Most migration to Europe is regular migration, legal migration. People coming for jobs, for love, for family, for study that got residence permits. That’s about 3 million people every year.
And far fewer come in irregular ways. But of course, those are the ones you encounter every day. The people who come on foot, hidden in airtight vans, in small boats on high waves.
I know I can count on you to manage the border.
And you can count on me for the right policies so you can do your job.
I want fewer people to come in irregular ways. So more can come in regular ways, legal pathways to the European Union.
And we can only manage migration together, with our partners along migration routes.
I’m working with countries outside Europe. On mutually beneficial migration partnerships to fight smugglers and find opportunities for regular migration.
And I’m working tirelessly to get Member States to agree on the Pact on Migration and Asylum.
We are making progress, now under the Czech Presidency. We are coming closer to a more Europeanised way to manage migration.
With proper registration, with border procedures and with a mandatory solidarity.
Finally what guides our joint work are our values.
Thousands and thousands of men and women do their duty as border guards every day.
Protecting the borders, protecting people and protecting our values.
With professionalism, integrity, commitment that Europe is proud of.
That I am proud of.
Your meeting today is a very important meeting.
And I call on you to use this opportunity.
To strengthen this global community.
Based on shared challenges, shared goals and shared values.
An equal partnership based on mutual respect.