Saturday

17th Nov 2018

Analysis

EU to shore up borders, returns and migrant detentions

The European Commission is demanding over a billion euros to shore up borders against migrants over the next two years, while handing over new executive powers to EU agencies tackling asylum and frontier controls.

The Wednesday (12 September) announcements made by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg are part of a larger bid to quell the surge of populism and right-wing politics that have used migration as a springboard to capture voter antipathy ahead of next year's European parliament elections.

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It means, among other things, the EU's border and coast agency, also known as Frontex, could have some 10,000 border guards, possibly armed, at its disposal by 2020.

"Service weapons may only be used exceptionally and under clearly defined conditions," notes the commission proposal.

The commission had earlier this year announced the 10,000 figure but with a 2027 date. The new deadline fast-tracks the border guard boost in numbers, and comes with a €1.2bn price tag in a budget proposal that seeks to boost the Warsaw-based agency's finances to just above €11bn over the next decade.

Frontex currently has around 1,500 guards on loan from EU states.

It wants its own corps and equipment and has redefined itself as a law-enforcement agency, in a move confirmed to EUobserver earlier this year by its director Fabrice Leggeri.

In February, it launched an operation with a fleet of over a dozen ships in the Mediterranean to tackle terrorism and crime.

But Juncker's vision goes beyond border guards. He also wants the agency to be more engaged in sending rejected asylum seekers back home along with executive powers to ID check and authorise or refuse people crossing a border into an EU state.

Frontex already helps carry out returns, most of them forced, and last year started chartering its own flights.

"We have already returned over 8,000 people this year and last year the overall number was 14,000," Ewa Moncure, a Frontex spokeswoman, told this website on Tuesday.

She said Frontex currently had an operational budget of around €50m to carry out these returns. "We are talking about hundreds of flights," she said.

The commission now says people whose applications for asylum have been rejected should have no period for voluntary departure. Appeals must be made within five days. It also wants EU states to lock them up for a minimum of three months to prevent them from absconding.

Carrying out returns, however, requires a travel document from the country of destination. Often such documents are refused or delayed, tossing a possible spanner in the EU return proposals.

It has concluded readmission agreements with 17 countries, none of them in continental Africa, although talks have been launched with Algeria, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

'We are treated like rats'

The renewed focus on Frontex and returns comes at a time when the internal asylum reforms, known as 'Dublin', are at a deadlock.

It comes amid a still-born decision among heads of EU government and leaders in June to divide up arriving asylum seekers by disembarking them in north African states and elsewhere in the EU.

Charity and rescue boats arriving in Italy and Malta over the summer have been caught in a tug of war over disembarkation as EU states squabble over helping a few hundred people.

It follows an alliance between Hungary and Italy to offshore and intern people outside the European Union in a model that seeks to replicate Australia's Nauru detention centre.

It also comes amid a sharp dip in living standards among over 20,000 asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants trapped on the Greek islands, and a 30-day ultimatum by a Greek regional authority for the migration ministry to improve their conditions on the Lesbos island Moria hotspot or face closure.

A June study found one functioning toilet per 72 person and one functioning shower per 84 on Lesbos, an island with just under 11,000 migrants but with facilities only designed to accommodate 3,000.

One asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo stuck in Moria for over a year, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told this website on Wednesday that the toilets are a disgrace, the sick get no medical attention for lack of doctors, and people are left in the dark on their individual cases.

"I don't only regret coming to Moria, I regret coming to Europe. We are living like rats here, I can't believe this is Europe in the 21st century. The EU authorities know what is happening but they don't care, we are being treated like animals," he said.

"Moria is not a camp. It is a jail."

Juncker said the EU's Malta-based asylum support agency (Easo), which had recently been rocked by allegations of fraud, would be given more decision-making powers to shuffle people through the application process.

It includes giving the agency full operational support on asylum procedures but stops short of having it take over applications from national authorities and has earmarked some €1.25bn for the effort between 2021-2027.

Juncker said the measures are needed to prevent EU states from violating the Geneva Convention.

European Commission wants 10,000 border guards

The European Commission in its new budget wants to almost triple the amount of EU money, to over €34bn, that goes into border management and migration. Part of that sum may go to finance 10,000 border guards for Frontex.

Visual Data

What Juncker said. A look at numbers.

"World" and "time" are the words the European Commission chief used the most in his last State of the Union address on Wednesday, amid a far-right surge and Trump's isolationism.

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