What is Frontex?
Frontex is the European Union’s border agency and is a key actor in enforcing the EU’s border regime. It is responsible for systemic human rights violations through its operations; involvement in deportations; cooperation with third countries, and role in strengthening EU borders.
What started as a small agency in Poland, has become one of the EU’s biggest. Its budget has grown by over 7 560% since 2005, with €5.6 billion being reserved for the agency from 2021-2027. Frontex has been recruiting an army of border guards who can own and use handguns, and aims to have 10,000 guards by 2027.
The agency can now buy its own equipment – such as ships, helicopters and drones – benefitting the arms, security and surveillance companies that have been so influential in shaping the EU’s border and defence policies through lobbying.
- Runs border control operations throughout the Mediterranean Sea and Balkan countries. Border guards and assets deployed by Frontex have reportedly, repeatedly, been directly and indirectly involved in illegal pushbacks, and are complicit in violence against migrants.
- Is a key coordinator and enabler of deportations throughout the EU. While deportations are already an act of violence in themselves, physical violence during Frontex-coordinated deportation flights has also been reported and described as “inhumane”.
- Acts as the EU’s ‘return agency’, coordinating joint deportation flights from EU countries, initiating deportations, assisting with so-called ‘voluntary’ returns and putting pressure on non-EU countries to readmit deported refugees.
- Cooperates with third countries as part of the EU’s efforts to externalise its border control. Frontex actively cooperates with – and/or deploys officers in – more than 20 non-EU countries, including Niger, Senegal, and throughout the Balkans. Frontex also cooperates with and delivers trainings to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, responsible for multiple pullbacks into Libya, where migrants are held in “concentration camp-like conditions”.
- Plays an important role in strengthening EU Member States’ border control. Frontex provides (human and material) “support” to Member States wishing to reinforce their border control measures. Frontex also facilitates EU countries’ acquisition of surveillance and border control technology and products by acting as a middleman between Member States and defence and security corporations.
Frontex also holds great power in leveraging the aggressiveness of the EU’s response to people on the move. It does so through its “risk analyses”: “analytical” reports issued by the agency, which determine the level of “risk” the EU is at when it comes to the migration ‘threat’. Frontex uses these reports to recommend the EU acts in accordance to the “risk” level, reinforcing border control, expanding Frontex’s deployments and growing the agency’s resources.
Frontex often depicts migration as a ‘threat’; a narrative that only feeds the rise of nationalism, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia.
The militarised policies of Fortress Europe have killed over 40,555 people since 1993. Drowned in the Mediterranean; shot at borders; died by suicide at detention centers, tortured and killed after being deported – the EU has blood on its hands.
The EU’s border policies are inherently racist and reinforce colonial and capitalist power structures. It’s time to abolish Frontex and the system it represents.
What we’re calling for:
The aim of #AbolishFrontex is not to reform or improve Frontex, or to replace it with more of the same. But rather to target the policies and system that keeps Frontex in place. We are working towards the dismantling of the border-industrial complex, and the building of a society where people are free to move and live.
Why Abolish Frontex and not calling for reform?
Reform seeks to improve something that already exists. But we don’t believe in making Frontex – or the EU’s border regime – more “efficient”. We don’t want to “better monitor” pushbacks; we want pushbacks to stop. We don’t want to make deportation flights “safer”; we want deportations to stop. Our idea of safety is to be able to remain in your country of residence and to be given the same legal status as everyone else, granting you a full set of rights. We don’t want to make border control “human rights-compliant”; border control is incompatible – and in fact aims to suppress – the human rights of people on the move.
The purpose behind reform is to take an idea or system and make it better, the underlying assumption being that it is worth repairing. But Frontex and the system it represents was never good nor positive. At its core and in its methods, Frontex embodies the EU’s racist and colonial border policies which are routinely implemented through violence.
We are seeking to abolish a system that is unjust and causes harm through oppression. In parallel, we seek to build new structures that can guarantee safety and freedom for all.
The purpose behind abolition is to dismantle and to create; it is a constructive project. The Abolish Frontex demands seek to reduce the “scale, scope, power, authority, and legitimacy” of Frontex and the system it represents. On the other hand, they outline new structures through divestment and reparation.
Frontex was never a good idea and cannot be improved. It is time to abolish Frontex and the system it represents.
Research and resources:
- The Frontex Files: TV show ZDF Magazin Royale explains what Frontex is, and how it interacts with defence and security lobbyists.
- Frontex Observatory: Statewatch observatory to analyse and document the role and activities of Frontex.
- Frontexit: The site for the campaign which brought together 19 associations, researchers and individuals from civil society in the North and South of the Mediterranean (Belgium, Cameroon, France, Italy, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, International organizations, European and Euro-African networks). The collective is coordinated by Migreurop and EuroMed Rights.
- The Frontex Public Register of Documents: a database of over 1000 Frontex documents, obtained through freedom of information and leaks.
- Knowledge worker and activist Matthias Monroy regularly writes about developments regarding Frontex.
- The Black Book of Pushbacks, Volume I and Volume II: the Border Violence Monitoring Network brings together a wealth of evidence on these violations, analysing in detail the way that these brutal acts have become systematised at the external border.
- EU Border Agency Frontex Complicit in Greek Refugee Pushback Campaign, Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat, ARD, TV Asahi (October 2020)
- Frontex’s History of Handling Abuse Evidence Dogs Balkan Expansion, Balkan Insight (February 2020)
- Frontex, an outlaw agency?, ARTE (February 2020)
- ‘Inhumane’ Frontex forced returns going unreported, euobserver (September 2019)
- Once migrants on Mediterranean were saved by naval patrols. Now they have to watch as drones fly over, The Guardian (August 2019)
- Frontex under pressure – an EU agency and how to deal with human rights, ARD (August 2019)
- Shoot First – Coast Guard Fired at Migrant Boats, European Border Agency Documents Show, The Intercept (August 2016)