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Frontex: Operation Hera: Operational Plan 2012: Annex 20 on 'guidelines for interviews'
13.2.17
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The text below comes from the annexes to Frontex's Operational Plan 2012 for Operation Hera. See the uncensored document in full (pdf) and the associated press release: EU border agency targeted "isolated or mistreated" individuals for questioning (pdf)

ANNEX 20

GUIDELINES FOR INTERVIEWS

Guidelines for the debriefing of migrants for intelligence purposes

Guest Officers should be aware of the Hera operational plan which provides information on irregular migrant trends in the region and specific details on the role and responsibilities of Guest Officers. The interview templates to be used during the operation are annexed to the operational plan.

Fixed questions will not necessarily provide honest responses and very often facilitators will know what the questions are going to be, and will instruct the migrants to provide set answers. For the same reasons country-specific questionnaires also have limited value. The provided interview template highlights the basic information that is required for each interviewee; however Debriefers should personally develop their own tailored questions during the course of the interview in order to get at a more accurate picture of the migration process.

Interview templates should be conducted in English and given a specific reference number, prior to being emailed to the FOC, OA and ICC (debriefing.hera2012@frontex.europa.eu).

The role of the Debriefing Officer is to obtain information on criminal activity. The personal data (name and family names) of interviewees must not be recorded on the interview template. The JDTs/MTs should mark in the top right-hand corner of the interview template how credible they believe each interview is. The JDTs/MTs should grade each interview using the following criteria:

A. The information received was of a good standard, and clearly shows the routing and modus operandi used by the migrant;
B. The information received is of an average standard; although incomplete, the information gathered gives some insight into the routing and modus operandi used by the migrant;
C. The information received is of a poor standard, and it was not possible to establish with any degree of certainty the routing or modus operandi used by the migrant.

B: Purpose of the JDT interviewing process.

Guest Debriefers are placed in host countries to provide an additional resource provided by Member States to assist during the Frontex Joint Operation. They are seconded to enhance local capability and should not replace local Officers, or be expected to work independently.

Guest Debriefers should, at the very least, engage with the authorities to try to assimilate their activities into the routine processing of migrant arrivals, without becoming part of the official process itself. Where possible, Guest Debriefers should work alongside host country Debriefing Officers, who have the additional advantage of providing local knowledge, improved cooperation and shared working practices. Debriefers should not duplicate the processes of the national authority.

The purpose of JDT/MTs interviews are:

1) to gather intelligence on facilitator's detection, routes and modi operandi used by irregular migrants. These interviews should be sent by the JDTs/MTs to the FOC, IO and OA as soon as practicable, so that the intelligence gathered can be analyzed by Frontex. This information is used by the ICC Coordinator in the operational area to assist in the deployment of means used in the detection and disruption of irregular migrant activity;

2) to target those migrants most willing to talk about their journey, and to gain an intelligence picture of the methods and means by which their journeys are constructed;

3) to identify suitable candidates for interview. The JDTs/MTs should ensure that they know the history of each migrant that they propose to interview, such as the date of arrival and circumstances of their detection. The JDTs/MTs should seek to identify migrants from minority ethnic groups, and individuals who may have been isolated or mistreated during their journey, as such people are often more willing to talk about their experiences;

4) to identify potential interview candidates possible after they arrive; once arriving migrants integrate with others in the camp, there is a tendency for them to become more reluctant to cooperate with the interview process. In addition, the JDTs/MTs should try and interview several migrants from the same boat in order to cross-reference their stories;

5) the JDTs/MTs should be transparent with the national authorities on the investigations that they carry out, and act in accordance with the rules which govern the handling of irregular migrants that are laid down by the national authority. The JDTs/MTs should also avail themselves of any opportunities to engage in joint working with the national authorities, such as joint interviews, debriefing at the Border Crossing Point/seaport, or opportunities to participate in land/sea operations;

6) If during the course of an interview the JDT/MT suspects that an interviewee may be a facilitator, this should be communicated to the national authority as soon as possible, and the FOC/IO/ICC should be informed;

7) to record the interview contemporaneously unless this is not practicable or interferes with the conduct of the interview. If not made during the course of the interview, the written record should be made as soon as practicable after completion of the interview;

8) the interviews conducted by the JDTs/MTs are carried out on a voluntary basis; irregular migrants are not obliged to talk to the JDTs/MTs. If, after gaining the consent of the irregular migrant to be interviewed, he/she is unwilling to talk, or is providing limited responses, the JDTs/MTs should excuse them and move on to another migrant;

9) to make it clear to the migrant that the interview will be conducted anonymously, and will not affect the outcome of their (asylum) case with the national authorities.

C Interview planning.

Some conflict may arise when debriefers are given, or request, access to migrant's mobile telephones, address books, diaries or other personal belongings. When migrants wish to provide this information voluntarily it is exceptionally useful, but great care should be taken to comply with local legal requirements and processes. A formal process should be in place to ensure that such information is not lost or disposed of at the point of apprehension and, where possible, is made available to debriefing and identification teams alike.

The following tasks should be performed to adequately prepare for an interview:

1) Ensure that all the necessary equipment is available such as stationery, pens etc, and that those present in the interview know their roles;
2) Ensure that the irregular migrant is willing to be interviewed;
3) Where necessary, provide for an official interpreter to be present, avoid relying on other migrants to act as interpreters and discount would-be interviewees with whom communication is problematic;
4) Ensure that adequate personal details are available about the migrant intended for interview; i.e. when they arrived at the camp, when and where they were detected etc.;
5) As far as practicable, interviews should take place in interview rooms which must be adequately heated, lit and ventilated. Persons being questioned or making statements should not be required to stand.

D: Health and safety.

Prior to commencing the interview, the JDTs/MTs should:

1) establish the layout of the interview room and the procedures in place for calling for assistance;
2) ensure that the interview room does not contain objects which could be used as weapons;
3) ensure that they sit closest to the exit door;
4) if an incident occurs it must be reported to the person in charge of that area as well as to FOC/IO/ICC;
5) If a Guest Officer has used unarmed defensive tactics during a violent incident, this must be notified to the national authority and to FOC/IO/ICC. Remember that it is as important to report a 'near miss' as it is to report an actual incident.

E: Interview techniques

There are proven methods of obtaining reliable information during interviews, the following techniques are suggestions only:

1) The Guest Officers should identify themselves to the irregular migrant, and explain the procedure to be followed and the reasons for the interview;

2) When investigating the arrival of an irregular migrant, adopt a chronological approach, going through each section of their journey one section at a time, covering all aspects thoroughly before moving onto another section, probing, clarifying and reviewing as necessary. Switching suddenly to unrelated topics is likely to confuse the interviewee.

Linking phrases should be used, such as "We've discussed why you left your home town, I now we want to discuss the first leg of your journey";

3) You should aim to adopt a neutral interviewing style, remaining calm, courteous, considerate and non-confrontational throughout. However, the behaviour of the interviewee and/or his response to your questions may require a different approach and this should be taken into account throughout the interview;

4) You must not try to obtain answers to questions or to elicit a statement by the use of oppression nor must you indicate, except in answer to a direct question, what action will be taken if the person being interviewed answers specific questions, makes a statement or refuses to do either;

5) Open questions (what, why, when, where, who, how) invite explanation and encourage conversation. Closed questions can be useful to specify the information but should be used sparingly. You should avoid leading questions, e.g. "Was your facilitator a fat man with a beard?", as they do not always elicit the true answer. However, questions designed to clarify information, e.g. "Now if I understand things correctly, what you're telling me is...?" can aid comprehension and fluency. Brief interjections, e.g. "Tell me more", "Go on" are useful to aid the flow of information;

6) Be flexible in your approach during the interview to allow the migrant to provide explanations, and be prepared to explore unexpected responses;

7) Do not adhere to a detailed list of specific questions, be flexible in your questioning and be prepared to adapt your line of questioning in reaction to the information provided by the irregular migrants;

8) Whilst having no evidential value in themselves, signs that a suspect is lying may indicate that a particular line of questioning might be worth pursuing further. Once you have identified a lie, do not challenge it straight away as the more details added, the more difficult it will be to retract. Challenging a lie provides new information about your knowledge. Once you have decided to expose the lie, do it in a clear and confident manner and ask the irregular migrant for an explanation;

9) At the end of the interview summarise the main points, and allow the interviewee to add anything or otherwise comment. Invite questions and feedback, replying honestly and as fully as possible. Any comment about the conduct of the interview should be seriously acknowledged.

10) Although a debriefing interview should be informal in its structure, there will always be a basic set of information that needs to be collected, as far as possible. (Collection of any personal data should always comply with national legislation).

This consists of:

  • Coast or most recent point of departure (name of the port or geographical position)
  • Where the journey started from (home town, place of residence)
  • Route (GPS or Telephone Card data?). Means of transport
  • Time and date of departure and duration of the trip
  • Day of departure (holiday, weekend or weekday)
  • Contact details of agents, friends or family (addresses/telephone numbers)
  • Details of facilitators on the journey
  • Places of rest - staging posts during the trip and length of time in each
  • Details of any documents held. If not, who kept them and where are they now?
  • Nationality
  • Details of travelling companions/family members
  • Reasons for migrating illegally
  • Payment to facilitators (how much - the source of finances - to whom paid and how)
  • Point of contact in their place of origin (addresses - telephone numbers - persons)
  • Was this the first attempt? Details of previous attempts and reasons for failure
  • Intended destination (Who were they going to meet there?)

Supporting information to be collected (also when allowed by law):

  • GPS data
  • Maps
  • Telephone numbers

F. Identification process

Determining nationality upon arrival is a extremely important part of the migrant screening process and, for this information to be accurate, an interpreter is often required. However, if subsequent debriefing establishes contrary nationality, this information must remain entirely separate from the official process.

Debriefers and their interpreters should not be asked to assist in the screening process and should politely decline any requests on the grounds that it would prejudice their position and might render the authorities open to judicial challenge. Should the local authorities wish to engage the interpreter separately for their own screening purposes (with the agreement of Frontex and the supplying Member State), then that is entirely acceptable.

To be related to the processes of identification/ screening of nationalities of apprehended migrants. They should assist the Spanish authorities accordingly by conducting identification interviews with/ screening of illegal migrants and establishing their assumed nationality.

Testing the apprehended migrants in order to identify them will be in 2 steps:

  • First test is the knowledge of the claimed country of origin. The illegal migrants will be asked to answer some basic questions: ethnicity, language, name of the tribes, name of the currency/money, national food dishes, way of clothing, name of the most famous person
  • Illiteracy level is very high in most of the countries where the illegal migrants come from that is why it is very advisable to perform the test orally

Second deeper test is performed to determine the assumed country of origin:

  • The interview experts will listen to the language and dialect of illegal migrants and will make a phonetical and semantical evaluation. The migrants will be asked to give information and speak freely (in his mother language/dialect about the environment in which he/she was living and growing up: houses, building, infrastructure, schools and above all the specific cultural phenomena for the area (the traditions there, for example how a wedding is celebrated, what holidays are there? What food/dishes are specific for his area?)
  • He/she should also talk about the community-specific features (everything he knows about the political situation, the constitution, the government, the police, other authorities etc).
  • He/she should talk about his own hobbies and interests, what famous persons, singers, football teams he supports etc.
    Test result/evaluation:
  • The above mentioned information given by the apprehended migrants will give the interview experts enough basic material to determine and judge what dialect the immigrant speaks, what foreign influence there is in his language (by phonetical and semantical evaluation) and from where/which country does the immigrant possibly originate and where he has been living lately (by analyzing the given cultural-specific features) and (country-specific features).

The interview experts shall not be involved in the asylum process.

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