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Frontex Reform Needed to Protect Migrant Rights in Europe

EU Parliament Investigation Condemns Agency Failure to Act on Border Abuses

A Frontex vehicle patrols the Greek Turkish borders near Nea Vyssa village along Evros (Maritsa) river on June 18, 2021. © 2021 Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/AP Images

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, known as Frontex, has failed to protect the rights of people at European Union borders, a European Parliament investigation has found.

The July 15 report highlights how Frontex – in particular its executive director, Fabrice Leggeri – failed to take action to address reports of migrant pushbacks, the illegal practice of summarily forcing migrants to return across a border they have recently crossed or sought to cross. Pushbacks by national border guards have occurred in countries such as Croatia, Greece, and Hungary, where Frontex has had major operations. The report was also critical of the agency's management board, EU member states, and the European Commission.

The report found that Frontex management ignored reports, including video evidence, about human rights violations taking place where Frontex operates, and charged that its executive director deliberately delayed hiring people whose job it would be to monitor rights.

While the report did not find “conclusive evidence on the direct performance of pushbacks and/or collective expulsions by Frontex,” it identified numerous failures and deficiencies in preventing, monitoring, or following up on human rights violations by member states in border operations. Addressing those failures will require unequivocal commitment and action.

Frontex in a statement said it would “look into the recommendations and how we can implement them to further strengthen the respect of fundamental rights in all our activities.”

The European Parliament report’s findings are consistent with Human Rights Watch research published in June, which shows that despite numerous formal accountability mechanisms, Frontex has failed credibly to investigate or take steps to mitigate pushbacks that occurred in their areas of operation.

The European Parliament investigation makes a number of key recommendations to Frontex to ensure its operations respect human rights, including giving its fundamental rights staff an enhanced role in decisions about launching or suspending Frontex operations. It calls on the Frontex Management Board and the European Commission to emphasize that respect for fundamental rights is central to Frontex and EU state border activities. With new powers and responsibilities, Frontex needs to demonstrate it can be exemplary in its respect for fundamental rights. The European Parliament report exposes how much work is needed before that becomes a reality.

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