Tag Archives: Fundamental Rights Agency

HRW Report: Frontex Exposes Migrants to Abusive Conditions in Greece

Human Rights Watch yesterday issued a report entitled “The EU’s Dirty Hands: Frontex Involvement in Ill-Treatment of Migrant Detainees in Greece” which “assesses Frontex’s role in and responsibility for exposing migrants to inhuman and degrading detention conditions during four months beginning late in 2010 when its first rapid border intervention team (RABIT) was apprehending migrants and taking them to police stations and migrant detention centers in Greece’s Evros region. … ‘Frontex has become a partner in exposing migrants to treatment that it knows is absolutely prohibited under human rights law,’ said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch. ‘To end this complicity in inhuman treatment, the EU needs to tighten the rules for Frontex operations and make sure that Frontex is held to account if it breaks the rules in Greece or anywhere else.’ … ‘It’s a disturbing contradiction that at the same time that the European Court of Human Rights was categorically ruling that sending migrants to detention in Greece violated their fundamental rights, Frontex, an EU executive agency, and border guards from EU states were knowingly sending them there,’ Frelick said. … ‘As new migration crises emerge in the Mediterranean basin and as Frontex’s responsibilities expand, there is an urgent need to shift EU asylum and migration policy from enforcement-first to protection-first.’ Frelick said. ‘This is not only legally required, but the EU, its agencies, and member states can and should respect and meet the EU’s own standards.’”

As the HRW report notes, the humanitarian crisis on the Greece-Turkey land border was many years in the making, but among the contributing factors to the increased flow of migrants seeking to enter the EU at this location, which by November 2010 accounted for 90% of the detected illegal crossings at EU borders, were the enhanced migration control measures in the Central Mediterranean and West Africa, specifically the bi-lateral push-back practice being implemented at the time by Italy and Libya and Spain’s bi-lateral agreements with West African countries.  Increased sea patrols along Greece’s maritime borders also contributed to the shifting of the flow to the land border.

Frontex issued a statement (or click here) responding to the HRW report in which it welcomed the report and said it was “satisfied to note that its comments on the original draft were taken on board. The report now highlights an issue, which we agree, is of great importance. We would like to recall that Frontex fully respects and strives for promoting Fundamental Rights in its border control operations which, however, do not include organisation of, and responsibility for, detention on the territory of the Member States, which remains their exclusive remit. … Frontex was receiving signals of concern from national officers deployed to the region. The Agency has been extremely concerned with the conditions at the detention centres – a point which we raised on several occasions both with the Greek authorities and with the European Commission. Nevertheless, we continue to stress that at the practical level abandoning emergency support operations such as RABIT 2011 is neither responsible, nor does it do anything to help the situation of irregular migrants on the ground….”

Here is Cecilia Malmström’s comment from her blog on the HRW report (translated from Swedish by Google translate):

“I also had a long meeting [on 21 September] with Human Rights Watch who has published a highly critical report on the asylum system in Greece . They argue that the EU agency Frontex, by its presence legitimizes the poor conditions at the border of Greece. We are well aware of the totally unacceptable situation at the reception centres in Greece and I am very frustrated that the situation is so slow to improve, especially in Evros. But probably the situation would have been even worse if Frontex had not been in place. We continue to put pressure on Greece and the new regulatory framework for Frontex, which I have proposed and was adopted by Parliament last week to strengthen its work on human rights significantly. The report will also be discussed in the FRONTEX Agency board meeting next week.”   (“Jag hade också ett långt möte med Human Rights Watch som har publicerat en mycket kritisk rapport om asylsystemet i Grekland . De menar att EU-organet Frontex genom sin närvaro legitimerar de usla förhållandena vid gränsen i Grekland. Vi är väl medvetna om den helt oacceptabla situationen vid mottagningscentren i Grekland och jag är väldigt frustrerad över att det går så långsamt att förbättra situationen särskilt i Evros. Men troligen hade situationen varit ännu värre om inte Frontex hade varit på plats. Vi fortsätter att sätta press på Grekland och i det nya regelverk för Frontex som jag har föreslagit och som Europaparlamentet antog förra veckan stärks arbetet med mänskliga rättigheter väsentligt. Rapporten skall också diskuteras på Frontex styrelsemöte nästa vecka.”)

Excerpts from the HRW Report:

Key Recommendations

To the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council

  • Amend the Frontex Regulation to make explicit, and thereby reinforce, the obligation not to expose migrants and asylum seekers to inhuman and degrading detention conditions.
  • Amend proposed Frontex Regulation Art. 26a to empower the Fundamental Rights Officer to refer Frontex to the Commission for investigation and where appropriate infringement proceedings in the event that the Frontex executive director fails to suspend operations despite persistent and serious violations of the Charter and/or in the event that members states and their agents persistently violate the Charter during Frontex operations.

To Participating European States 

  • Suspend any participation in Frontex operations that fail to adhere to binding international human rights standards.
  • Instruct border guards deployed on Frontex missions on their obligations under international law. Ensure that border guards are trained and conversant regarding all rules and standards pertaining to the transfer and treatment of detainees.

To the Frontex Management Board

  • Suspend the deployment of EU border guards to Greece unless migrant detainees can be transferred to facilities elsewhere in Greece (or outside of Greece) that meet EU and international standards or until the conditions of detention in the Evros region where migrants are currently detained are improved and no longer violate European and international standards.
  • Intervene with Greek officials and monitor compliance to ensure that migrants apprehended by guest guards are transferred to detention facilities that comply with European and international standards.
  • Conduct thorough assessments of the risk that human rights violations may occur before engaging in joint operations or deploying RABIT forces.

To Greece

  • Implement the recently adopted asylum reform package as fully and as quickly as possible.
  • Ensure access to asylum procedures at the border and in the border region.
  • Reduce overcrowding by using alternative facilities and alternatives to detention as much as possible.
  • Immediately improve detention conditions, and immediately create open reception centers for asylum seekers and members of vulnerable groups, such as children.”

Click here for HRW Report.

Click here for HRW Press Release.

Click here or here for Frontex response.

Click here (EN) and here (EN) and here (FR) for articles.

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Frontex Releases its “Fundamental Rights Strategy”

According to a Frontex press release, “Frontex’s Management Board endorsed the Agency’s Fundamental Rights Strategy during its most recent meeting, on March 31. The approved document sets out the objectives, legal and political context, operational implications and implementation plan for the strategy.”  “The new strategy will be elaborated into an Action Plan, which has been requested by the Management Board with a view to adopting it at the next meeting, scheduled for May 24.”

I have done a quick read of the 8 page document and overall had a positive reaction to the strategy.  One weakness, and there are probably others, is that in the end “Member States remain primarily responsible for the implementation of the relevant international, EU or national legislation and law enforcement actions undertaken in the context of Frontex coordinated joint operations…”  (See Para 13 below.)  There is not much that Frontex can do about this, unless Frontex is given authority to act independently from individual MS.

The strategy does contemplate that Frontex can terminate a Joint Operation if respect for fundamental rights can not be guaranteed.  (See Para 15 below.)  I try to imagine how this strategy would operate within the current Joint Operation Hermes if the influx of Tunisians were to continue and expand and if Italy were to begin unilateral returns of Tunisian nationals (or others) to Tunisia without adequate process.  Would Frontex discontinue Operation Hermes?  It is hard to imagine that happening given the current situation in North Africa.

Here are some excerpts from the strategy consisting of some of the provisions which jumped out at me – the full document however should be consulted:


Frontex considers that respect and promotion of fundamental rights are unconditional and integral components of effective integrated border management.


The Legal and Political Context


13. Member States remain primarily responsible for the implementation of the relevant international, EU or national legislation and law enforcement actions undertaken in the context of Frontex coordinated joint operations (JOs) and therefore also for the respect of fundamental rights during these activities. This does not relieve Frontex of its responsibilities as the coordinator and it remains fully accountable for all actions and decisions under its mandate. Frontex must particularly focus on creating the conditions for ensuring compliance with fundamental rights obligations in all its activities.

The Operationalisation

Joint Operations

14. [***] One particular objective in [Joint Operations] is ensuring that the right to international protection must not be hampered by the law enforcement action and that persons seeking protection are referred to the competent national authorities to assess their case.

15. [***] Corrective measures should be taken in case of breach or serious risk of breach of fundamental rights. As last resort, Frontex might terminate a JO if the conditions guaranteeing the respect for fundamental rights are no longer met. [***]

17. Frontex will put in place an effective reporting system to ensure that any incidents or serious risks regarding fundamental rights are immediately reported by any participating officer or Frontex staff member and can be acted upon. This reporting should be the basis for effective monitoring of all its operations. The monitoring effectiveness and credibility will rely heavily on the commitment of national border guard services to report but also on the involvement of external stakeholders. The Operational Plan shall set out the modalities for reporting, including how and to who report.


19. Alleged violations of human rights reported either by national or Frontex officers or third parties, when substantiated, will be followed up by Frontex by communicating and clarifying the situation in cooperation with the competent national authorities without prejudice to any resulting administrative or penal procedures. Member States should also inform Frontex on the follow-up measures.


21. In addition to pursuing a regular exchange of information with external partners engaged in fundamental rights protection activities, in particular the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator, Frontex will endeavour to ensure their regular involvement in the relevant operational activities in accordance with the Working Arrangements with these partners. The involvement of these external partners or others should be foreseen in the Operational Plan, which should also define the scope of the cooperation.

22. Frontex will also seek advice from its external partners on the relevant instructions or guidelines for officers taking part in Frontex activities. These instructions or guidelines, which should form an integral part of each Operational Plan, could relate to methods for better identifying people seeking international protection, proper treatment of vulnerable groups including potential victims of trafficking or fundamental rights monitoring of operational activities. The final aim is to promote the highest standards in compliance with fundamental rights by the development and promotion of best practices.


External Relations

28. Frontex cooperation with Third Countries’ border-guard services is conducted under the EU External Relations Policy and shall therefore be guided by the principle of the respect of human rights. Frontex is committed to adjusting its cooperation arrangements and activities to the EU foreign policy measures adopted as a consequence of the human rights situation in the partner Third Country.


The Implementation


38. In order to increase the transparency and credibility of this process, external third parties, in particular those representing civil society, shall be involved. Their concerns and perspectives must be taken into account for the evaluation and revision of the strategy. Frontex, national border-guard services, external partners and representatives of civil society shall therefore have the possibility to exchange views and suggest means of improvement for the strategy and the Action Plan in a consultative forum, to be convened periodically at Frontex Headquarters.


Click here for the Frontex strategy document.

Click here for Frontex press release.

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FRA Call for tender: Treatment of third country nationals at the EU’s external borders

The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency has issued a call for tender.

From FRA:  The overall objective of the project is to examine the treatment of third-country nationals at the external borders of the European Union in light of the existing fundamental rights framework. The project will not cover all fundamental rights issues that may emerge in the context of management of external borders, but focus on 2 specific components.

The first component of the project focuses on the southern maritime borders of the European Union. The second component of the project will analyse the treatment of third-country nationals at border crossing points.”

The first part of the fieldwork (relating to interception and rescue at sea) will be carried out in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain and the second part in 10 border crossing points to be identified among those with the highest number of entries of third country nationals into the Schengen area.

Duration: 23 months; Budget: 760.000,00 EUR;

Deadline for submission of proposals: 13 September 2010.

(Noted earlier today on the Migration and Law Network listserve.)

Click here for full information.

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