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The Hand at the Helm of Frontex

EU Border Agency Needs an Executive Director Committed to Human Rights

A Portuguese vessel in a Frontex operation in Lesbos, Greece, 2016. © 2016 Frontex

For too long, the European Union external borders agency, Frontex, has operated as though border enforcement and human rights were two competing principles. But an EU border agency that guarantees people’s rights at Europe’s borders is only possible with strong leadership and commitment from the top. As the search for Frontex’s next executive director gets underway, rights should be a central focus throughout the process.

Former Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri resigned in April following an investigation by the European Union Anti-Fraud Office that looked into numerous reports of Frontex’s complicity in illegal “pushbacks,” forcing asylum seekers and migrants who crossed the Aegean Sea back to Turkey. Evidence of serious abuses and shortcomings of the agency’s oversight mechanisms had been mounting for a while.

The job posting for the executive director position, which closes on July 19, notes that the director must adhere to the strictest integrity and ethics. It focuses on processes, management, and the ability to drive change, and requires the candidate to have a good knowledge of EU law and policy around freedom, security, justice, and border management.

What’s missing, however, is a requirement that candidates have a demonstrated commitment to respect human rights as they lead the agency.

As the process moves forward, the European Parliament should ensure fundamental rights are a core area when questioning final candidates. Members of the European Parliament and the selection committee should look for someone with the integrity and courage to ensure human rights are fully integrated into all Frontex operations. The new leader should be willing to continuously assess the agency’s risk of complicity in human rights violations, including by failing to monitor and report on abuses by host member state border officials that occur in the areas of Frontex operations. The next executive director should pledge to act, including by terminating operations or funding in a member state, if serious abuses are linked to Frontex activities.

Over the last year, Frontex has taken some important steps to integrate human rights into its operations: Fundamental Rights Officer is in place with a team of rights monitors, and the agency adopted a fundamental rights action plan. Processes are there. What Frontex now needs is a leader with the commitment and courage to bring them to fruition.

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