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29th Jun 2022

Border agency accused of failing migrants' rights

  • Frontex says member states are responsible for dealing with human rights violations (Photo: frontex.europa.eu)

In her debut appearance at the European Parliament, EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly criticised the EU border agency Frontex for skirting its responsibilities on fundamental rights.

O’Reilly told euro-deputies in the parliament’s petitions committee on Tuesday (26 November) that the border agency cannot distance itself from rights violations committed during its joint operations with member states.

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The Warsaw-based border Fronex had earlier rejected her recommendation to set up an internal system whereby migrants could file complaints if they feel their rights were breached.

“An institution’s failure to implement an ombudsman recommendation should be a rare event,” said O’Reilly.

Frontex, for its part, says it is up to national authorities in the member state where the violation took place to handle complaints filed by migrants on the ground.

The agency does act on reports of abuse made by other officers by referring them back to national authorities, but it refuses to deal directly with migrants' complaints.

“We cannot investigate, we cannot process personal data, but member states can, they can investigate,” a contact at Frontex told this website.

The director of the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch, Bill Frelick, in a letter addressed to the EU ombudsman last August, said the argument means the agency cannot be held accountable for any involvement in rights violations.

“We reject the notion that a co-ordination function absolves Frontex of its responsibility,” he noted.

O’Reilly agrees.

She said the agency must make “administrative arrangements” to promote and monitor compliance to the charter of fundamental rights.

The agency should also be held responsible for the behaviour of any officer operating under the Frontex banner, she said.

“Any person, working in an official capacity, who wears an EU flag on the uniform or an armband, must be at least jointly with member states, accountable,” said O’Reilly.

Patrol officers wear their own respective national uniforms but also the blue armbands, which identify them as participating in a Frontex operation.

Frontex already has a code of conduct, a new fundamental rights officer, a fundamental rights strategy, and a consultative fundamental rights forum.

All stem from new EU rules set up in late 2011 to make sure the agency applies the charter of fundamental rights.

The ombudsman based her investigation on whether the agency had implemented them, which they did for the most part, she noted.

But O’Reilly says it is not enough.

“I see the lack of a internal complaints mechanism as a significant gap in Frontex’s arrangements,” she said.

The human rights watchdog in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe, had put forward a similar plan in April.

It described Frontex’ position as “a shortcut” that would not “stand up under a court’s assessment.”

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