Frontex Scrutiny Working Group leaves Frontex off the hook

The ‘Report on the fact-finding investigation on Frontex concerning alleged fundamental rights violations‘ presented by the Frontex Scrutiny Working Group (FSWG) in the European Parliament yesterday is a disappointing document: It mostly lets Frontex off the hook, ignores the core problems of Frontex’s mandate and the EU’s militarised border policies it is part of, and merely proposes non-solutions in the form of some cosmetic changes.

The Working Group was established in January to investigate allegations of Frontex’s involvement in fundamental right violations. Such allegation are nothing new – there have been multiple stories from people on the move, search and rescue organisations and journalists for years now. More recently, research by Bellingcat, Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, ARD and others, leading to a series of publications last autumn revealed the systematic nature of pushbacks and violence at the EU’s external borders and Frontex’s involvement in these. Public outcry finally forced some official – even if limited – investigations into Frontex, after the agency has seen explosively rising budgets and expanding mandates since 2015.
The FSWG acknowledges that the Bellingcat investigation “claimed to have found evidence that Frontex had knowledge of the pushbacks, did nothing to ensure compliance with legal obligations, and in some cases even cooperated with the authorities carrying out the illegal pushbacks and collective expulsions”. Nonetheless it states itself that it “did not find conclusive evidence on the direct performance of pushbacks and/or collective expulsions by Frontex in the serious incident cases that could be examined by the FSWG.”
In line with this statement, paired with the fact that the FSWG did not agree to hear the testimonies of those who have suffered human rights violations or even examine actual forensic evidence of pushbacks, the report hardly gives attention to what Frontex is actually doing at the borders and the harm and violence stemming from the agency’s actions. Instead, the FSWG puts the blame, if there is any, on EU member states. 
The whole report then reduces the role of Frontex to an agency whose main fault has been insufficent efforts to monitor the behaviour of member states’ border authorities, failing to ensure compliance with fundamental rights in operational plans, and failing to get its own internal system of a Fundamental Rights Officer and monitors of the ground.
All the recommendations follow-up on this reduced optic, and as such only aim for cosmetic changes: more monitoring, a larger role for the Fundamental Rights Officer, more transparency, more attention for fundamental rights in operational planning, better follow-up to complaints and Serious Incident Reports.
These recommendations therefore ignore and fail to address the fact that border policing is, by default and by design, incompatible with the respect of human rights. What’s worse is that, even within the FSWG’s flawed logic, where human rights could somehow be respected in the course of border control operations by the means of effective monitoring, the recommendations fail, as the Parliament’s solution is to centralise all monitoring within Frontex itself: the Frontex FRO, the Frontex Consultative Forum, the Frontex fundamental rights monitors, the Frontex Management Board… A border police policing itself; a one-way recipe for (continued) abuse and dissaster, and nothing else than adding more fig leaves for accountability and monitoring to the ones already existing.
Meanwhile, the report is very critical of Frontex Executive Director Leggeri, in essence portraying him as a liar regarding his handling of incident reports, yet falls short of proposing to remove him.
On the other hand, by shifting the blame to member states, which are also accused of undermining Frontex role in monitoring compliance with fundamental rights, the FSWG has ignored not only the real role of Frontex in pushbacks and violence at the borders. It moreover disregards systematic problems, such as the EU’s staunch anti-immigration policies, the militarisation of borders, the existence and rapid expansion of Frontex, and the ever closer ties between the agency and the military and security industry. 
In this sense, it is shocking to read that the FSWG has nothing to say about the expansion of Frontex’s capacities to do so even more in the future. Given the current situation at the EU borders, which the FSWG itself defines as “a pattern of behaviour by border- and coastguards that puts lives at risk at sea, jeopardises access to asylum and uses violence to deter people”, is it really a good idea to expand Frontex’s presence at and beyond the EU’s borders, and allow its operations to grow? Is it a good idea to give Frontex billions of euros to buy its own arms and border security equipment, and to build its own 10,000 person strong armed border guard corps? Or to increase Frontex’s role in deportations, another instance where violence and fundamental rights violations against people on the move are a common occurence?
It comes as no surprise that the FSWG report and recommendations were welcomed yesterday by Frontex itself in a statement that “reaffirmed” the agency’s innocence, labels its own work as “essential”, and closes with the announcement of the latest expansion of Frontex operations to Lithuania.
The FSWG set out to hold Frontex accountable and has failed its job badly by proposing nothing to prevent further violence, human rights violations and deaths at Europe’s borders and beyond. Any serious investigation into the agency and its actions would have come to the only possible conclusion: that violence and human rights violations are, inheritly and an undeniably, the cornerstone of border control; that Frontex is directly responsible for enacting and perpetuating this violence against people on the move; and that any serious attempt to ensure the respect of human rights must entail abolishing Frontex and the system it represents.


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