Serbia, EU's Frontex agency sign new border control agreement

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia and the European Union's border agency, Frontex, agreed on Tuesday to start deploying guards across the country's borders and not just those with EU members, in a bid to control and prevent illegal migration and cross-border crime.

Thousands of people from the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Africa annually use the so-called Balkan route, which runs via Turkey, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Serbia, to reach wealthy Western countries.

After signing the agreement with the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, in Belgrade; Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said the deal will help the Balkan country improve the security of its borders.

"Every additional policeman from the EU who joins our border police will help in a comprehensive response to the challenges of the fight against irregular migration," Dacic told reporters.

On the basis of a 2019 EU regulation, Frontex can assist countries it signs agreements with throughout their territories and can exercise powers such as border checks and registration of persons.

The new agreement will replace the 2021 arrangement between Belgrade and Frontex that allowed joint operations at Serbia's borders with EU members Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia.

Serbia also borders Western Balkan republics Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo, which it refuses to recognize.

So far, out of six Western Balkan countries, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro have signed arrangements with Frontex.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Anil D'Silva)