Frontex – an agency for deportation?
One of the tasks Frontex is known for is the “interception” of migrants by joint patrols and operations at the EU borders. But one of the main problems is: What will EU member states do with the “intercepted” migrants? It is not so easy to push them back to the non-EU country where they are coming from if there is no readmission agreement, especially concerning transit migrants. Also there is criticism from human rights organizations that any “refoulement” of migrants, who could be “real” refugees/ asylum seekers, is illegal (see the latest decision of the anti-torture-commission of the Council of Europe against deportations to Libya by joint patrols with Italy). To send migrants back to countries of origin is often even more difficult, if they have no documents and/or there is no readmission agreement. And deportations by plane are expensive and often lead to resistance, not only from deportees, but also from passengers and members of the crew.
All these are reasons why EU member states invented a lot of measures:
- to “identify” migrants in hearings with embassies and dubious “experts” – but there were protests of concerned migrants and antiracist groups;
- to put pressure on third countries to sign “cooperation agreements” – but there was and is resistance, also from governments interested in remittances from their nationals in EU countries;
- to organize “Joint Return Operations” – but there were demonstrations and actions at airports like 2008 in Hamburg, from where at least eight joint deportations to African countries took place, 2009 in London and 2010 in Vienna, and against airlines like Air Berlin, which deported people to Vietnam in June 2009 after interrogations in Poland and Germany with participation of Vietnamese secret police and two people of Frontex.
Frontex started to coordinate and to improve such measures by organizing training on how to carry out interrogations and charter deportations and by exchanging staff. Since 2006, Frontex is directly involved in assisting charter deportations (a joint flight from Germany was described here: http://www.zeit.de/2008/03/Abschiebeflug). In 2009, Frontex coordinated and partly financed 32 “Joint Return Operations” of at least 1570 individuals. This represented a tripling in joint expulsions since 2007. Most of the flights went to African countries like Nigeria, Cameroun and Gambia, some to Kosovo and Albania, and Britain and France also tried joint deportations to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2009, Frontex spent 5,25 Mio. € on “Return cooperation”, of which 1,7 Mio € were used for interrogations to identify migrants in order to get travelling certificates. In 2010, this budget was increased to 9,341 Mio. €, and Frontex wants to organize twice as many joint deportations as in 2009 and plans to buy their own planes.
In Greece, Frontex started in 2009 a return capacity building project called Attica. “The aim of the project was to bring assistance in identification, acquisition of travel documents and returning illegally present third-country nationals to their home countries. Focus was also on the development of national return-related procedures, enhancing expertise and improvement of co-operation with third countries. The pilot project was running for three months, during which a fully operational Return Coordination Centre was set up, co-operation with Nigerian and Georgian embassies was fostered and identification process has been properly running. Greece commenced participation in joint return operations to Nigeria and Georgia with 22 returnees. The project will be continued in 2010.”
On Greek islands like Lesvos and Samos, Frontex staff disguised as journalists, human rights activists or translators try o find out and/or change the nationality of migrants without papers or increase the age of minors in order to make deportations possible. New is that such “screening” already takes place before migrants can apply for asylum which means that those who are not wanted in Europe, are sorted out for deportation directly after arrival. Governments pretend to fulfill the conditions of international human rights agreements by doing so, but in reality it is just a modernization of the repressive and selective migration regime.
Transnational Newsletter 8th edition, May 2010: www.noborder.org