Analysis of the Real Instituto Elcano: “Frontex: Successful Blame Shifting of the Member States?” by Jorrit J. Rijpma, PhD European University Institute, Florence, and Lecturer in EU law, Europa Instituut, Leiden University.
“Frontex in Short – Frontex can be seen as the outcome of a ‘re-balancing’ of powers between the Member States, the Council and the Commission following the communitarisation of the policy on external borders after the Treaty of Amsterdam, constituting an important shift from the intergovernmental coordination of operational activity under the Council to a more Community-based approach. [***]
Joint Operations at Sea – [***] Currently, the most controversial practice is that of the diversion by national border guards of ships back to their point of departure. This practice entails not only a real risk to the life and safety of the passengers on board these often unseaworthy ships, but as regards possible asylum seekers on board, it also risks violating the right to claim asylum and the prohibition of refoulement. The Greek coast guard has the questionable reputation of regularly diverting boats back to the Turkish shores. Italy has openly admitted to the interception and return of irregular migrants and asylum seekers from Libya under its 2008 Treaty on Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation with the latter country. Both within and outside the Hera operations, Spain has been returning people to Senegal and Mauritania, but here at least the interceptions are formally cast in terms of rescue operations and transfer to the nearest place of safety.
Frontex: the Lesser Evil?- There are many reasons why Frontex can be subject to criticism. It could be argued that it is an instrument of an essentially flawed EU migration and asylum policy. [***] Finally, it could be said that the Agency reinforces a securitised perception of what is essentially a humanitarian problem through its one-sided mandate, the background of most of its staff in national law-enforcement agencies and its military-style operations. [***] However, it is important to realise that for the moment the Agency’s scope for independent action remains very limited, both in practical and in legal terms. Serious human-rights violations are more likely to occur in operations from national border guards removed from the public eye, than in relatively well-scrutinised joint operations. Frontex, being a Community body, is subject to numerous reporting and evaluation duties, as well rules on transparency. [***]
Conclusion: Efforts should focus on ensuring full respect of international rules regarding international protection and search and rescue and an authoritative interpretation of these rules in a broad sense. These are essentially political decisions. It is the Member States and the Community institutions, not Frontex, that are to be reproached for the failure to do so. [***]”
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