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The pride of a border guard

2024-02-08

It took one border patrol for Michael Grévy to fall in love with the job. For him, border surveillance is a great school of patience, vigilance, and stamina. After 46 years in the German Federal Police and three years of long-term deployments with Frontex, Michael is about to take his well-deserved retirement, but his presence will linger for long in the memories of all the colleagues that he has worked with.

On a patrol in Estonia
On a patrol in Estonia

A policeman becomes border guard

Michael joined the German Federal Police in 1978 and has been performing police work first in the national arena, and later in various international missions with the UN, WEU, EU, African Union and most recently – with Frontex. What makes a former successful federal police officer go looking for border experience?  For Michael, it’s simply his character: “I was always one of the first to raise my hand every time Frontex was looking for volunteers,” Michael says with a grin, this is his idea of learning and experiencing life.

“Coming from one country, you learn a certain routine, do things in a certain way. Monitoring and patrolling combine intelligence with risk management. This job is so important, you must always have in mind your security and that of your partner. When you go on deployment, you exchange these practices, you learn, but you also advise others.”

Respectful communication is a key concept here. When an EU border guard joins a local team of professional colleagues, who know their border areas inside out, everything depends on the choice of words and gestures. Michael is lucky to speak a few foreign languages, which always facilitates understanding, but there are times when silence can take you even further, “Border guards go on patrols. They don’t just sit in the car and scrutinise the horizon. They go in a vehicle, they go on ski, on foot. All fresh recruits must remember one thing - keep your eyes open. Learn from every colleague you meet in your career. Observe”.

Estonia - setting buoys
Estonia - setting buoys

Why border guards matter so much

For Michael, border patrols constitute the essence and the core of border surveillance. He has full respect for all the profiles, but border checks and detections in one crossing point simply are not his element. So, whenever a new deployment opportunity popped up, Michael would only ask: “What is the climate in that country?”, and he was ready to go.

“Being an excellent border guard, and I do not consider myself to be even a good one, requires a lot of strength. A lot of vigilance. Imagine that you are driving through a vast border area. No trees, no points of reference. You have to keep an eye on everything. Then, there is the necessity to always look out for new risks, new signs. You have to keep an eye on what’s changed since yesterday or the day before. I remember one time in Estonia. Our patrol found some innocently looking clothes, which were certainly not there on our shift two days earlier. They may have belonged to the migrants. We did not find anyone then, but this is just to say that small circumstances, tiny little changes in our surrounding are every border guard’s daily routine. It may sound simple, but it’s not because you must be able to connect the things that you see and follow your instincts.”

On a patrol in Lithuania
On a patrol in Lithuania

One final patrol before I Finnish

Three years with Frontex have passed like a couple of days only. After Lithuania, Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece, Michael is on his final deployment in Finland. When we speak, he is 300 metres from the Russian border expressing his absolute amazement and admiration for the professionalism and working culture of the local border force colleagues. Again, he was the first to volunteer when Finland asked Frontex for reinforcement.

Laughingly he says, “I thought that I knew how to go by ski, but when I saw the Finnish guards patrolling the border on cross-country skis, I realised that I have to practice some more!”. In fact, it takes time and patient practice to develop the skills that match the demanding conditions of each border area or the stamina to work in a minus 20-degree environment.

Michael hesitates and adds seriously, “I am a police officer and a border guard, but above all I’m a human being and nothing else. As border guards, we observe and apply law but as humans, we are here to protect humans. From today’s perspective, I have made all the choices that let me sleep well. But because of all these hard choices, I think today that border surveillance is the hardest job to do.”

Finland - preparing for a patrol
Finland - preparing for a patrol

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over

Michael takes his retirement but not unnoticeably. His Frontex coordinators and operational chiefs all agree that “The dedication of Mr Grevy to justice and professionalism leaves an indelible mark in the hearts of all of us at the European Border and Cost Guard Agency Frontex. His role in recent years, where he operated at an international level, has been crucial to our shared mission of ensuring security and stability on the European continent. His expertise, dedication, and professionalism have contributed to achieving our goals and strengthening the trust in our Agency”. This is what we read in his laudation sent to the Federal German Police.

Michael accepts all compliments with professional humility: “Looking at my career and my deployments, I think that I can say that I was quite selfish. I took every chance to learn and grow. And I will keep taking advantage of every opportunity that my life still has to offer. I will study life until the end. When I retire, I will spend more time with my family. I will play golf in the summertime and go skiing in the wintertime. And maybe, maybe when this is not enough… I will apply to become Frontex’s Fundamental Rights Monitor.”

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