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Frontex and Human Rights 2021: A reading list

Are You Syrious?

Jan 2 · 11 min read

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.

Credit: Privacy International

JANUARY

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.

FEBRUARY

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.

*activate English subtitles*

MARCH

  • [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?

APRIL

Frontex: The EU’s deportation Machine, by LightHouse Reports

  • 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).

MAY

JUNE

  • 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?”

JULY

AUGUST

  • 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.

SEPTEMBER

Quo vadis Frontex? — Reform, control or abolish? Panel discussions on the illegal activities of the EU border agency and its glaring control deficit

OCTOBER

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 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.

NOVEMBER

While Frontex is currently under unprecedented examination for human rights violations at the EU’s borders, its work beyond EU borders remains barely scrutinised.

“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.

Investigating Frontex: How a reporting team put an EU super-agency in the spotlight. Presented by Lighthouse Reports and co-sponsored by the Refugee Law Lab, with Daniel Howden, (Lighthouse Reports), Nick Waters, (Bellingcat), Steffen Lüdke (Der Spiegel), Katy Fallon (freelance); moderated by Petra Molnar (The Migration Tech Monitor)

DECEMBER

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.

On the Move with Begüm Başdaş (episode 30): “Sharp borders & border tech experiments with guest Petra Molnar”

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