Saturday

20th Jul 2019

Frontex set to help Balkan states deport migrants

  • Frontex may end up taking orders from non-EU states when it comes to returns (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC)

People who have had their asylum applications rejected in countries such as Serbia may end up being deported home by the EU's border agency, Frontex.

The controversial outsourcing of the EU agency to perform such tasks, based on asylum and return decisions made by countries outside the European Union, is being discussed behind-closed doors on Thursday (28 March) in Strasbourg.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The talks are part of a much larger reform of the Warsaw-based agency, announced by the European Commission last September.

Co-legislators are set to hammer out the final details in a so-called trilogue negotiation with the EU executive on Thursday in a bid to sort the overall reform before the European elections.

But fears are mounting Frontex may end up being used by some states outside the EU to send people back to their home countries, where they could face death or persecution, in a move also known as non-refoulement.

Non-refoulement is illegal under international law.

A draft text being discussed by the negotiators on Thursday and seen by EUobserver says "the agency [Frontex] may provide operational assistance to return activities of third countries."

It further notes that "such assistance shall be without prejudice to the exclusive competence of the third countries to issue return decisions."

The only safeguards appear to require the country to have signed up to European Convention on Human Rights and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Similar calls to allow Frontex to carry out returns from western Balkan countries were already rejected some two years ago during an initial overhaul of the agency.

But the possibility has now surfaced once again.

EUobserver understands EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos is piling on pressure for socialist and liberal EU lawmakers to accept the return measures.

It means people who have never set foot in the European Union and have had their cases reviewed by countries that are not bound by EU law, may end up being forced back to their home countries by Frontex.

Also known as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex has evolved over the years with more staff, bigger budget, and more responsibilities.

Its annual budget went from €6.2m in 2005 to €142m in 2015, and €239m in 2016 - with a view to reaching €322m in 2020. Some €11.3bn has been earmarked for 2021-2027.

Last year, Fabrice Leggeri, the agency's chief, described Frontex as a "law enforcement agency at EU level".

No more sea rescues

The latest move points to a further externalisation of the EU's return policy and its wider efforts to stop people from reaching the European Union.

Earlier this week, it was announced that sea rescue efforts by EU's naval Operation Sophia are set to be halted in late September, following intense pressure from Italy.

Set up in 2015, Sophia had been mandated to stop smuggling but was also bound to rescue people at sea when required.

The Italian-led mission had helped rescue hundreds of thousands of people since 2015 but became mired in a political tug-of-war over where to disembark them.

In fact, rescues had already more or less stopped since July 2018, when Italy refused to allow them ashore.

Sophia will now only provide aerial surveillance and support for the Libyan Coast Guard.

"That means more interceptions by Libyan forces and return of women, men, and children to nightmarish conditions and treatment in Libya," said Human Rights Watch's deputy director Judith Sutherland.

Analysis

Frontex: Europe's new law enforcement agency?

The past 18 months have seen the EU's border agency Frontex morph into a law enforcement as it steps up efforts to crack down on crime and terrorism.

Frontex naval operation to look for 'foreign fighters'

The EU border and coast guard agency, or Frontex, has launched a new naval operation called Themis. The operation replaces its surveillance Triton mission but with a bigger emphasis on security and intelligence gathering.

EU warns Hungary over Afghan refugees

Budapest tried and failed last week to deport three families to Afghanistan, and is accused of denying food to others stuck in its transit zone. The European Commission says it is taking the allegations "quite seriously."

EU court: Denmark's family-reunification law 'unjustified'

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has delivered a blow to Denmark's strict family-reunification laws. The ruling will likely cause headaches for its new left-leaning government given its stance on immigration, and opens up 8,000 pending cases.

EU dismisses UN call to stop migrant returns to Libya

As the death toll of the Tajoura detention centre airstrike reached 53, including six children, the UN called for a halt to returning people to Libya. The EU - which is helping fund the Libyan coastguard - said no.

EU guilty of Libya migrant 'tragedy', ICC lawsuit says

EU states' efforts to "deter" migrants from Libya have helped kill more than 14,000 people and exposed 40,000 others to "crimes against humanity", according to a lawsuit filed in The Hague on Monday.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. EU goes on holiday as new UK PM arrives This WEEK
  2. Survey: Half of EU staff 'don't know' ethics rules
  3. Von der Leyen signals soft touch on migrants, rule of law
  4. Timmermans: von der Leyen will be tough on rule of law
  5. Timmermans trolls 'idiot' Brexit negotiators
  6. Rudderless Europe: Will real Germany please stand up?
  7. PiS & Fidesz claim credit for von der Leyen victory
  8. Von der Leyen faces gender battle for commission posts

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us