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EU launches joint border guard to keep migrants out

The European Union launched a joint border guard force yesterday as it tries to prevent any repeat of an uncontrolled influx of migrants and refugees last year that has opened up gaping rifts between member states.

Overwhelmed by the arrival of some 1.3 million people in 2015, the EU has increasingly focused on sealing its external borders. The new force is designed to deploy quickly and flexibly to any location on the bloc's frontiers.

"The establishment of the agency is a symbol of the EU, of a Europe that is able to deliver, that is proving its efficiency in addressing the migration and security challenges we are faced with," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a ceremony at a Bulgarian border point with Turkey.

The new body is due to have 1,000 staff and a reserve pool of 1,500 border guards designated by member states. In the past, however, EU governments have often been slow to provide such reinforcements.

It will have some 120 officers in Bulgaria, which shares a land border with Turkey and whose Prime Minister Boiko Borisov has previously criticised the EU's response to the migrant crisis as too soft. Brussels has also pledged €160 million ($179 million) to Bulgaria to help it police its borders.

"This no longer is the EU we loved criticising. The EU has shown it can be quick, effective, united, take actions in the field," said Borisov, who built a controversial fence that has cut arrivals from Turkey by a third this year to 12,500 people.

While arrivals in Bulgaria and Greece, the main point of entry to Europe last year, have dropped, the numbers in Italy are the same, a growing worry for Rome and Brussels.

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