21 August 2020
Plans to increase the number of deportations from the EU will cost hundreds of millions of euros, create giant, opaque and unaccountable agencies and further undermine claims that the EU occupies the moral high ground in its treatment of migrants, argues a new report by the civil liberties organisation Statewatch.
The report, Deportation Union: Rights, accountability, and the EU’s push to increase forced removals, provides a critical examination of EU legal and policy measures designed to step up the number of deportations, in particular those coordinated and funded by by Frontex, the EU’s border agency.
The plan is for the agency to assist with the deportation of 50,000 people annually in the coming years. Between 2007 and 2018, the agency aided in the deportation of some 53,000 individuals, including over 850 people who were expelled to Afghanistan and almost 300 to Iraq. Expenditure on a number of flights to Afghanistan was labelled “irregular” by EU financial auditors, but no one has been held accountable for this.
The vast majority of deportations coordinated and funded by Frontex head to Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Tunisia and Nigeria, while Germany, Italy and Spain are the member states making the most use of the agency’s ‘services’. Frontex is due to be allocated a hugely increased budget in the 2021-2027 period in order to implement its new powers, with the initial proposal from the European Commission seeking €13 billion.
The plan to increase the number of deportations from the EU and step up Frontex’s role will be aided by two other developments analysed in depth in the report: attempts to water down rights and protections set out in the EU law governing deportation proceedings; and an increase in the amount of personal data on migrants held in EU databases, at the same time as facilitating swifter access to those systems.
Following changes to its legal mandate in 2016 and 2019, Frontex is to acquire increased means for coordinating peoples’ removal, including through new databases to monitor the “stocks and flows” of individuals subject to deportation proceedings, the ability to process increased amounts of personal data, and powers to deploy increased numbers of ‘escorts’ and other officials on deportation flights.
However, the report warns that these new powers are not matched with sufficient measures for democratic oversight and scrutiny, or remedies for those who may have their fundamental rights breached during a Frontex-coordinated operation.
An increased number of fundamental rights monitors will be deployed by the agency and the agency’s complaints mechanism has been updated, but neither can be considered truly independent. The agency’s Fundamental Rights Office has also been granted more staff and greater independence, but it remains to be seen whether the agency will alter its longstanding practice of failing to provide it with adequate resources.
The issuance of deportation orders remains the responsibility of national authorities, but Frontex’s assistance in their implementation raises serious concerns. The massive discrepancies in asylum recognition rates across the EU create a significant risk that expulsion flights funded and coordinated by Frontex may remove refugees to countries where they are at risk of torture or persecution.
Chris Jones, co-author of the report and Project Director at Statewatch, said:
“In liberal democratic states, deportations should be considered a matter of ultimate last resort. The plans of the EU and its member states point in the other direction – less rights for individuals and more powers for the authorities, making expulsions simpler and swifter. In the context of a global pandemic and a worldwide movement for racial equality, it is high time for some fresh thinking on migration, rather than increasingly punitive, expensive and ultimately unworkable measures.”
Jane Kilpatrick, co-author of the report and a Researcher at Statewatch, remarks:
“Frontex frequently stretches its mandate to the limit, overstepping legal boundaries until a new regulation is introduced legitimising its activities. Accountability mechanisms included in the texts are insufficient, both in scope and functionality, to keep up with the agency’s increased role and influence. That the monitoring of Frontex’s deportation operations will now be organised and financed by the agency itself is a primary example of these deficiencies.”
Mariana Gkliati, co-author of the report and PhD researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said:
“Return operations have been Frontex’s fastest-growing activity and are an area that warrants particular attention. More urgently than ever, Frontex needs to set in place the appropriate safeguards, central amongst them an effective and independent return monitoring system. This highly-sensitive human rights issue needs serious critical attention.”
Chris Jones – chris [at] statewatch.org
Jane Kilpatrick – jane [at] statewatch.org
Statewatch office: 0203 691 5227
 The three sections of the report – looking at EU law governing deportations; databases and information systems; and Frontex – will be explained in a series of webinars featuring expert guest speakers and EU parliamentarians that will be announced in September. At the same time, the EU Commission is expected to announce its new Pact on Asylum and Migration, which many rights advocates fear will continue to pursue the increasingly hard-line approach taken by the EU in recent years.
 The dataset used for the report can be found here: https://www.statewatch.org/deportationunion. Further information can also be found in the section ‘Frontex: the EU’s ‘deportation machine’’, pp.22-59
 These issues are examined in depth in ‘The use of force: restraints and escorts’, p.45; ‘Monitoring forced removals’, p.50 and ‘The complaints mechanism: improved but insufficient’, p.52, also available here: https://www.statewatch.org/deportationunion
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