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1st Mar 2024

Frontex policy on rights-abusing EU states 'not fit for purpose'

  • Frontex has some 518 agents working in Greece, plus 11 boats and 30 patrol cars, as well as other equipment, at Greece’s external borders (Photo: Frontex)
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Rules requiring the EU's border agency Frontex to suspend operations in member states where rights are being violated "are not fit for purpose", according to a European Commission official.

The comment was made to MEPs on Thursday (27 April) by Corinna Ullrich, a European Commission official from the internal affairs division DG Home.

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Ullrich is carrying out an evaluation of the rules underpinning the Warsaw-based agency, which is aiming to have some 10,000 armed EU border guards under its command.

Among the rules is a so-called article 46 whereby the agency's executive director can terminate any activity if there are serious and persistent violations of fundamental rights.

"We are not sure that actually article 46 is really fit for purpose as it as it stands," she said.

"We also think it's a bit naive to think that this is a decision that can be taken by the executive director on his own," she said, noting that such decisions are political.

Frontex has only once ever triggered the article, in early 2021, following a European Court of Justice ruling condemning Hungary over illegal pushbacks into Serbia.

But widespread reports of abuse in other border regions, such as in Greece, have failed to illicit a similar reaction.

The New York Times earlier this year revealed that the agency's top human rights chief had recommended it stop operating in Greece.

And a recent report by the Greek Council for Refugees, an NGO, says that pushbacks of refugees to Turkey are widespread and involve humiliation, illegal detention and physical and sexual abuse.

In April, a Greek minister said some 270,000 people had been deterred from crossing the Evros border with Turkey in 2022.

Frontex has over 500 standing corps officers and staff working in Greece, both at the mainland and on the islands in the Aegean.

The agency also deploys 11 boats and 30 patrol cars, as well as other equipment, at Greece's external borders.

Hans Leijtens, its new executive-director, has said in the past that he would "have absolutely no constraints in applying article 46 if we arrive at that point."

But the mood appears to be shifting.

Frontex's fundamental rights officer, Jonas Grimheden, has argued since 2021 that the agency should not pull out where rights are being violated.

"Reversed article 46 would be the way to go. So meaning more Frontex, more presence," he said again, earlier this week.

When pressed, a European Commission's spokesperson on Friday would not say if they intend to amend the article.

The European Commission's evaluation of the agency's regulation to assess whether the rules are working must be completed by December.

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