Frontex and Human Rights 2021: A reading list
During 2021, millions of words were written on Frontex. Activist groups, monitoring networks, investigative journalists, NGOs… many groups have looked closely at the track record of the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency, at its ambiguous position somewhere between Brussels and the external borders of the EU, at the numerous criminal allegations against it. Here is a selection of some of the year’s best, month by month.
- Politico’s Frontex’s growing pains. EU border force plagued by chaotic recruitment, COVID outbreaks and an investigation by anti-fraud watchdog and Der Spiegel’s Scandals Plunge Europe’s Border Agency into Turmoil are among the best overviews of the events regarding the agency in late 2020 and early 2021.
- EU Migration Agencies: the Operation and Cooperation of Frontex, EASO and Europol. An analysis of the operational tasks and cooperation of the three EU agencies, which focuses on the expansion of their legal mandates, the reinforcement of their activities on the ground and the gap between these two dimensions. As the Regulations of these agencies stress their assistance and coordination role, their actual tasks have an operational nature on the ground: they guarantee the effective and uniform implementation of EU migration, asylum and border management measures, while also ensuring that the concerned Member States do not jeopardise the functioning of the Schengen area or the CEAS. (It is also a book!)
- Frontex: Accountability Declined, report by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, documents and analyses the involvement of Frontex in Greece’s illegal pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers to Turkish waters and the various violations of International and EU human rights laws entailed. The report also highlights a pattern of the excessive and alarming autonomy of Frontex, as its budget, role and staff are augmented by the EU without clear legal boundaries.
- Validating Border Violence on the Aegean: Frontex’s Internal Records, by Border Criminologies, analyses how the agency’s internal reporting system “forms the backbone of Europe’s external borders and migration situational picture, Frontex’s narrative of the border.” JORAs (Joint Operation Reporting Applications) are the ‘activity logs’ of Frontex operations, “devised to feed into risk analyses, maps and weekly analytical overviews.”
Through their production, a narrative arc is formed by the recorded incidents, generating a specific mode of understanding … As a result, even acts of violence such as pushbacks can get translated into mundane logs and thus, brought within the remit of everyday border enforcement and legality.
- Artificial intelligence: Frontex improves its maritime surveillance, by Mathias Monroy, explains what it means to use AI to “catch bad guys at sea”, the costs of the new border tech and the implication of this further move towards unmanned border security. On the same topic, Petra Molnar’s interview on the use of drones, facial recognition, and lidar on refugees is revealing of how 2020 has been pivotal in turning people on the move into “guinea pigs” for surveillance technology.
- [DOCUMENT] Note for the participants to the extraordinary Frontex Management Board meeting of November 10, 2020 regarding the accusations of pushbacks in international media. This note includes the preliminary findings of the Executive Director’s own inquiry into the matter, which absolves the agency from all accusations. Released by Statewatch.
- The Fortified gates of the Balkans: How non-EU Balkan states are incorporated into Fortress Europe and what the role of Frontex is.
- The Frontex Files
Glock, Airbus, Heckler & Koch. From 2017 to 2019, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency held 16 meetings with lobbyists — and the list of participants reads like a Who’s Who of the weapons industry. Handgun catalogs were passed around, and the virtues of surveillance drones were detailed in eye-catching PowerPoint presentations. No external observers were in attendance, and Frontex hasn’t let the public know what was discussed at these meetings. Members of the European Parliament asked Frontex two years ago to publish a lobbying transparency register, but that still hasn’t happened.
- [DOCUMENT] Statewatch released Frontex correspondence between Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri and the European Commission, Council and Parliament, the Frontex Management Board, and the border authorities Greece, Romania, Portugal and Sweden, on the subject of alleged complicity in pushbacks in the Aegean region.
- Folks at Statewatch also produced a briefing on Frontex operations outside the EU, in which they compare the agreements between the EU and five West Balkan states (Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia), which allow Frontex to operate in the countries. Operations in Albania and Montenegro started in 2020, the agreement with Serbia has been recently approved and will come into force in May 1, 2021, while negotiations with BiH and North Macedonia are underway.
- Frontex released Artificial Intelligence-based capabilities for the European Border and Coast Guard, a 167-page long report commissioned by the agency to RAND. The report explores four overarching research questions: (1) What is the current landscape in the application of AI to border security? (2) Which new and emerging AI-based systems could be applied to border security? (3) In which areas of border security might new and emerging AI-based systems be applied? (4) What steps are required to integrate AI-based systems into border security?
- Three articles by the brilliant Mathias Monroy, (1) on what the creation of Frontex’s ‘Standing Corps’ actually means for the agency (and for us) in terms of capability and monitoring over the use of weapons and means of coercion; (2) on the evolution of smart borders in Europe, with the introduction of IborderCtrl, ETIAS and EES; (3) and on how the Mediterranean is becoming a testing track for EU unmanned surviellance projects.
- #SecurityHasNoGender. Frontex, border security, and the politics of gender-neutrality. Columba Achilleos-Sarll, Julia Sachseder and Saskia Stachowitsch unpack the latest attempt by Frontex “to present itself as progressive, benevolent, impartial, and inclusive.”
- How Frontex Helps Haul Migrants Back To Libyan Torture Camps, an article by a wide team of journalists to look into the close relationship between Frontex and the Libyan Coast Guard.
- The Frontex Pushback controversy, (i) Lessons on Oversight, (ii) What Oversight for Frontex: A two-part analysis of the developments at the European level of legal oversight of law enforcement and the the weakness of the current legislative framework under which Frontex operates, by Elspeth Guild for the blog of Odysseus Network.
- Frontex and Pushback: Obligations and accountability, by the Meijers Committee.
- Investigating Frontex webinar, by Lighthouse Reports, with Daniel Howden, (director, Lighthouse Reports) Nick Waters, (lead investigator, Bellingcat), Steffen Lüdke (reporter, Der Spiegel), Katy Fallon, Reporter (freelance, The Guardian).
- Holiding Frontex to Account, an assessment of existing accountability mechanisms in regard to Frontex and recommendations to systematically use and strengthen these scrutiny tools, as well as to add new accountability mechanisms, by ECRE.
- First test in Malta: Frontex drones approaching, by Matthias Monroy.
A reconnaissance drone is to track down boats carrying refugees in the central Mediterranean Sea in the future, the main contractor is the Airbus Group. The range of the deployed „Heron 1“ also enables flights off the coasts of North Africa.
- Border surveillance, drones and militarisation of the Mediterranean, an article, originally published in Italian in November 2020 by the journalist Antonio Mazzeo, chronicles investments into and tests and deployments of drone technology by EU and national agencies in the Mediterranean.
- Greece, Violence, Lies and Pushbacks. Report by Amnesty International, which shows that “the use of pushbacks by Greece cannot be considered as a response to exceptional events or the actions of rogue actors. Rather, it is a de facto policy of border management that relies on the coordinated efforts of multiple authorities in Greece.”
- Greece: EU Commission upgrades border surveillance — and criticises it at the same time, by Matthias Monroy.
The Greek border police are using a sound cannon and drones on a new border fence, and the EU Commission expresses its „concern“ about this. However, it is itself funding several similar research projects, including a semi-autonomous drone with stealth features for „effective surveillance of borders and migration flows“
- Blackmail in the Balkans: how the EU is externalising its asylum policies, by Statewatch.
“The development of a system for collecting data on people on the move in the Balkans highlights the overall orientation of the EU’s migration policies: outsourcing migration management at all costs, to the detriment of provisions for reception. In order to keep those considered as “undesirable” at a distance, would the European Union go so far as to extend beyond its borders the ‘Dublin’ mechanism for allocating state responsibility for asylum claims, at the risk of further aggravating the rights violations along the Balkan route?”
- To SAR or not To SAR. Statewatch has released a first three-part series examining some under-reported and under-examined issues concerning Frontex. The first two instalments look at the history and evolution of the agency’s search and rescue obligations and at the legal firewalls that have created blurred responsibilities regarding SAR and pushbacks. Find them here:
Part 1: Why is Frontex expected to save lives at sea?
Part 2: Legal firewalls of a very political agency
The third instalment delves into the public image of Frontex and the narrative the Agency spins about itself:
Part 3: Frontex, secrecy and story-telling: control of information as super-strategy
- Frontex and Exit Governance: Dataveillence, Civil Society and Markets for Border Control. A long report detailing “the central and rapidly expanding role of the Frontex Agency in the institutional structure and political dynamics underpinning EU exit policies, and how the Agency interacts with a range of non-state actors, ranging from commercial for-profit companies to International Organizatons (IOs) and civil society organizations, such as NGOs.”
- New regulation: Europol becomes quasi-secret service, an article by Matthias Monroy on the expansion of the mandate of another EU agency, EUROPOL.
- Dividing Labour, Evading Responsibility: Frontex-Hellenic Coast Guard’s Modus Operandi in the Aegean
- Frontex closes surveillance gaps in the air and in space. High-flying drones are to reconnoitre the EU’s external borders from the stratosphere, a static zeppelin is already observing close to the ground. With interception systems in space, the EU border agency wants to locate and possibly tap satellite telephones in the Mediterranean. So far, the technology has only been installed in aircraft. By Matthias Monroy.
- New unmanned capabilities: When will the EU use drones for practical sea rescue? Two leading drone manufacturers report readiness to equip their aircraft with life rafts. These can be dropped with pinpoint accuracy over a maritime emergency. But perhaps this would also encourage violations of the Geneva Refugee Convention. By Matthias Monroy
Sunday 3 October 2021 marks the anniversary of the death of over 360 people on the move, during a shipwreck off Lampedusa in 2013, and as such is a day of commemoration. Also on this day, in 2005, the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex started operating in the Polish capital Warsaw. This is not a reason for celebration or festivities: Frontex has left a track record of death and destructed lives in its sixteen years of existence.
- Frontex dehumanizing constitution of people on the move. Henrike Behrens-Scholvin and Anna Schliewen analyse two Frontex Annual Reports from 2006 and 2019, to look into how the agency frames people on the move:
Frontex frames people on the move in categories that emphasise attribution and assignment … Reports do not speak of people, refugees, but people on the move are grouped together and criminalised in categories such as “illegally staying third country nationals” … [This] produces subjects as non-European, not as part of the European norm. The outside of this European Norm means in consequence the outside of the European territory. Within the discourse of flight, refugees for Frontex are “nationalities, irregular migrants, departures and arrivals”. The only active acts attributed to people on the run are cross border crimes.
- WhatsApp to Libya: How Frontex uses a trick to circumvent international law, by Matthias Monroy.
The EU is not allowed to return refugees to countries where they face persecution. In 2017, the Commission therefore set up a backdoor for refoulement to North Africa. Published text messages now reveal how Frontex is providing aerial reconnaissance for the Libyan coast guard.
- Frontex cooperation with third countries: examining the human rights implications, by Mariana Gkliati and Jane Kilpatrick for FMReview. Looking at the cases of Albania and Niger and their agreements with Frontex, the authors explore different human rights risk and draw out lessons for those interested in the EU’s actual adherence to the rule of law.
While Frontex is currently under unprecedented examination for human rights violations at the EU’s borders, its work beyond EU borders remains barely scrutinised.
- Frontex and the military and security industry, a fact sheet by the Abolish Frontex Research Group about the increasingly close relations between Frontex and the European military and security industry.
“Since it started operating in 2005 it has primarily functioned as an intermediary between industry and border authorities of EU member states. With its expanded budget for the next seven years (2021–2027) it is bound to become a big buyer of its own..”
- Two articles published by Der Spiegel International: Europe’s Violent Shadow Army Unmasked, not strictly about Frontex, but an important investigation led by Lighthouse Report on the “mysterious men wearing balaclavas are beating up refugees at the external EU border or abandoning them at sea. Months of reporting now reveals who is behind the operations;” “Our Orders Are Clear. Nobody Gets Through,” another article from the investigative team at Lighthouse Report/Der Spiegel, analysing pushbacks and pullbacks on the Mediterranean and tracing back order and policies to Brussels.
- EU and NATO: Military, police, secret services against migration as ‘hybrid threat’, by Matthias Monroy. Since the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Commission and the Council intertwined internal and external security and thus closer cooperate with NATO. In 2015, a fighting word was created for this, which is being positioned against disinformation, cyber attacks and migration.
- A Fig Leaf: the Frontex accountability regime, by Lena Karamanidou, for Abolish Frontex.
The effectiveness of the Frontex human rights record and accountability regime has always been questioned, but in the course of the investigations into Frontex that have taken place in the last year, it has become clearer than ever that the accountability regime acts as a fig leaf. Rather than documenting violations and violence at the borders of the European Union, it conceals them. Rather than preventing violence — assuming this is possible since the institution of the border is inherently violent and racist — they have been used to exonerate Frontex from any wrongdoing and to legitimatise the violence and violations perpetrated by the EU and its member states.
- Tech and Borders: in Fortress Europe: the millions spent on military-grade tech to deter refugees, Kaamil Ahmed and Lorenzo Tondo for The Guardian map out the rising number of high-tech surveillance and deterrent systems facing asylum seekers along EU borders; in With drones and thermal cameras, Greek officials monitor refugees, Lydia Emmanouilidou and Katy Fallon look into the new surveillance system developed by the Greek Migration and Asylum Ministry for the ‘closed and controlled camps’ on the islands and the mainland. On a similar topic:
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