FRONTEX UPDATE by Tineke Strik

First Update: 22 March 2021

In response to the allegations on the role of Frontex regarding pushbacks by Member States, the European Parliament has decided to establish a permanent Scrutiny Group for Frontex. While this Scrutiny Group will cover all aspects of Frontex and its functioning, the Working Group is explicitly tasked with an inquiry on the current allegations. I have been appointed rapporteur to this inquiry.

The mandate makes clear that we have to assess all the different situations in which Frontex could have been confronted with (allegations of) human rights violations by Member States. Our main objective is to find out if Frontex complies with its obligations relating to human rights, including promoting respect for human rights and ensuring that the Agency does not operate in a Member State where fundamental rights are violated. This obligation, laid down in Article 46 of the Frontex Regulation, requires a high level of fundamental rights sensitivity, meaning that it has to be on the alert for and assess all types of signals of human rights violations. That implies that there should be a low threshold for serious incidents reports for border guards, an easily accessible and independent complaint mechanism for people subject to violations, and that all indications about possible violations are taken very seriously. And of course, it also implies that Frontex takes adequate measures in case a Member State or a deployed border guard is involved in pushbacks or other human rights violations.

In order to draw clear conclusions on how Frontex performs regarding human rights, we will look at different national contexts. Not only the situation in Greece, but for instance also in Hungary (where Frontex has been active for years despite well-known human rights violations), Croatia (where it gave aerial support to the Croatian border guards on the ground, which are accused of violent pushbacks), and its performance in the Mediterranean Sea.

We have started our work with an exchange of views with the Executive Director Leggeri and Commissioner Johansson, and last week we had a hearing with the Management Board of Frontex about the results of their internal inquiry into their alleged complicity in the pushbacks in Greece. The Management Boars's final report leads to more questions than answers. For instance, about the sources the conclusions are based on: it seems that the Management Board took all statements of the Greek authorities for granted, and the chair confirmed that by saying: how could I not trust my direct colleague? The final report doesn’t draw conclusions on the requirements of Article 46 of the Regulation, on the contrary: it raises doubts about the rules on what to do while intercepting boats at sea. It asked for a legal opinion from the Commission, and luckily the Commission made very clear that Member States have to do an individual assessment before they can send anyone back to a third country. This is not the moment to start questioning the legal framework, but to take responsibility and to make sure that human rights are respected. Especially while border Member States are accused of violations at the border we should be able to rely on the EU Agency Frontex to uphold our values and rights. And as Frontex is ruled by the Commission and the Member States, it would be helpful (to say the least), if they would no longer turn a blind eye, but show that human rights violations are no longer tolerated.

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