New director, same tragedy

5 July 2022 – On Monday 4 July Frontex announced that its Management Board, made up of representatives of EU countries’ border authorities – mostly police officers active at national level -, has appointed Aija Kalnaja as Executive Director ad interim for the agency. This follows the resignation of former director Fabrice Leggeri in April 2022, amidst ongoing investigations by EU’s anti-fraud watchdog OLAF into Frontex‘s role concerning allegations of harassment, misconduct and illegal pushbacks. Kalnaja was already acting Executive Director since the departure of Leggeri.
The change in leadership is meant to appease the intense and growing criticism Frontex is facing. Over the past years – and thanks to the tireless work and testimonies from people on the move, support workers, journalists and civil society – the public has seen and been confronted with Frontex’s unacceptable behaviour and violent nature. The OLAF investigation is a direct result from this and its secret report on Frontex of February 2022 should be made public.

Pictures of wounded people after being attacked and beaten by border guards for attempting to cross a border; footage of boats purposefully being left adrift at sea, assistance being denied; minute-by-minute reconstructions of illegal pushbacks… The evidence is by now overwhelming and undeniable. And so the demands for change became unavoidable.
It is in this context that a new leader for the EU’s most powerful agency is being appointed. But appointing a new face while the structure and the system remain unaltered will not bring drastic and necessary change; it’s nothing but a new chapter of the same book, it’s continuation.
Frontex will remain Frontex – something that Kalnaja has evidenced herself. At the end of May Kalnaja told the European Parliament that Frontex is “traumatized” from all the criticism it received about the human rights violations it is responsible for.
This feeble attempt to put the agency and its employees in a victim role shows that Frontex lacks any recognition or repentence over the fact that it is not Frontex employees, but countless people on the move who suffer real trauma and injury from their treatment by the agency and other actors in the EU’s militarised border regime, nor that the violations are unacceptable and will stop in the future. It is also a clear signal from Frontex itself that we must expect business as usual under the leadership of the new Director.
And what business as usual means is actually repeated and widespread forms of violence at and beyond Europe’s borders: people on the move being shot at, pushed back, left to drown, handed over to torturers, jailed and deported. It means an agency with its doors widely open for the lobby of the military and security industry, cooperating with authoritarian regimes in non-EU-countries, and building its own paramilitary border police force.
The fact is, a change of leadership is a solution that flagrantly fails to match the extent and nature of the problem. Frontex is a border police force whose mere existence inherently creates and perpetuates violence and death; substituting one director for another isn’t aimed at ending this violence or even addressing it – it simply seeks to put someone new in charge who will keep it running smoothly. Meanwhile, the European Commission, the European Parliament and Member states’ governments have firmly stood on the side of Frontex and chosen to expand its powers even more.
We are certain Kalnaja will continue to try to give Frontex a more humanitarian face, talking about fundamental rights and about rebuilding trust. We are also certain these are nothing but hollow words and an act of windowdressing, as the sole mission of Frontex is to keep or get people on the move out of the EU. As such, Frontex cannot be reformed or turned into a kinder version of itself. It is and will remain the figurehead of the EU’s deadly militarised and racist border and migration policies and therefore must be abolished.
Abolish Frontex, a network of over 130 groups and organisations in and beyond the EU, can assure Kalnaja that there will never be any trust in her and the agency. As we continue to campaign and take action to ABOLISH FRONTEX and end the EU border regime, we look forward to making Kalnaja‘s mandate a brief one and the last of its kind, coming to an end amidst the ruins of an agency that has been dismantled to the ground.  
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