21st Mar 2023

EU border agency gets extra powers

  • Tunisian migrants in Lampedusa were disappointed by the EU reception (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The European Parliament on Tuesday (13 September) agreed to extend the powers of Frontex, the bloc's border agency and insisted on some provisions reinforcing migrants' rights. Groups dealing with refugees say the measures merely scrape the surface of the problem.

The measures, to come into force before the end of this year, will "strengthen safeguards so as to guarantee the full respect of fundamental rights and improve the ability of Frontex to support member states more efficiently and more independently," EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement.

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Under the provisions, Frontex will still not be given its own border guards, which will be deployed from member states. But it will have the power to acquire its own helicopters and cars, rather than depending on what national governments supply - as is currently the case.

Frontex will also be able to strike deals with non-EU countries on repatriation of irregular migrants and provide those governments with technical assistance.

As a novelty, a fundamental rights officer will be deployed to the Warsaw-based agency to "assist" Frontex in managing these issues and a "consultative forum" will also be set up together with NGOs dealing with human rights.

In the event of a breach of human rights, Frontex missions may be "suspended or terminated". The agency is also obliged to write down rules guaranteeing compliance with human rights in all missions, including return operations.

"This is the most important overhaul of the law that established Frontex in 2004 and parliament greatly welcomes it. Our assessment of the first six years of experience of the agency is that it needs to be strengthened and be made more effective", said centre-right Maltese MEP Simon Busuttil, who drafted the parliament's position.

Groups dealing with migrants first-hand say the move is unlikely to change much in practice, as most refugees who try to come into 'Fortress Europe' meet national border guards, not Frontex people, however.

Or, when they do meet them "it is hard for migrants to differentiate between official Frontex operations and national border operations", said Philip Amaral from the Jesuit Service Europe (JSE).

"Just as important to ensuring that Frontex operations respects human rights and access to asylum, are the bilateral relationships the EU and individual member states have with third countries. We've received reports of forced deportations in Morocco and Algeria. In Ukraine, migrants intercepted at the borders are subject to detention in poor conditions. Moreover, its nearly impossible to get refugee protection as the system is rife with corruption, and refugee laws and procedures too complex", he added.

The fact that there is no parliamentary scrutiny over Frontex activities is also being flagged up by the Jesuit group, as is the lack of opportunities for migrants to file for asylum before trying to cross over the Mediterranean and risk their lives in the hope they will be granted refugee status.

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