Forced returns and fundamental rights? FRA releases 2020 report on national ‘state of play’


On 3 July the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) released a ‘state of play’ document examining the deportation (“forced return”) monitoring systems of the 27 member states in 2020.

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On 3 July the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) released a ‘state of play’ document examining the deportation (“forced return”) monitoring systems of the 27 member states in 2020. FRA has published such state of play reports since 2014.

The monitoring of forced return operations is a safeguard introduced by the EU Return Directive (2008/115/EC) Article 8(6), under which member states must provide an effective forced return monitoring system.

The state of play report outlines for each country the organisation responsible for monitoring forced returns, whether this body is the same as the national preventative mechanism under the UN Convention Against Torture, and whether the monitoring reports are made public.

FRA clarifies that in some states covered in the report, “only very few operations are monitored or the monitoring does not cover all phases of return”.

In some states, such as Bulgaria, only the pre-return phase of return operations is monitored. Some states, such as Belgium and Switzerland, will monitor all phases of a small number of operations, while the majority of operations will only be monitored pre-departure. All phases of operations are reportedly monitored by the competent authorities of Austria, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, and Slovakia.

The FRA points out:

“Developments over the years also show that the implementation of national monitoring systems is not linear. Particularly where it is project-based or based on a temporary agreement between the authority and the monitoring entity, an adequate forced return monitoring system may be in place for some time but gaps re-emerge when funding comes to an end.”

Last year, Slovakia and Cyprus did not have an operational system for monitoring forced returns, while in this year’s report it is just Sweden with an “x” in this list, though last year the Swedish Migration Agency was found to provide an operational system.

As in last year’s report, Germany’s various authorities responsible for monitoring expulsion operations are found to offer a “partly operational” system for doing so.

In last year’s “state of play” report, the FRA commented:

“In Germany, Slovakia and Sweden, the monitoring body appointed by law is an agency/entity belonging to the branch
of government responsible for returns. Thus, FRA considers that it is not sufficiently independent to qualify as ‘effective’ 
under Article 8 (6) of the Return Directive. In Germany, the effective forced return monitoring system, operated by NGOs
 at certain airports, covers only parts of the country.”

Neither Ireland nor the UK are bound by the 2008 Return Directive and so are not obliged to provide for a monitoring system. According to the FRA report, Ireland has no monitoring system in law, while the UK has an operational monitoring system, for which Independent Monitoring Boards and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons are responsible.

The report indicates that in certain states, non-trained staff are working as monitors. Belgium’s General Inspectorate of Federal Police and Local Police has three members of staff trained as monitors, though eight members of staff were working as forced return monitors in the past year. A similar pattern is seen in the report on Denmark’s Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Estonian Red Cross, with ratios of 3:6 and 4:2, respectively.

One forced returns monitor has suggested to Statewatch that staff members who work as fundamental rights monitors in internal national settings are therefore trained according to the national institution’s priorities. This monitor could be deployed on a national return operation, but could not be deployed as a monitor for the European “pool” of monitors, for which specific training provided by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, Frontex and the FRA is necessary.

The FRA specifies that “in some member states, not all monitors have necessarily received a specialised training”, leading to different figures in its report. Additionally, “in some member states, there is staff that carries out monitoring besides other tasks. This means there might be some full-time monitoring staff and part time monitoring staff and this part-time monitoring staff is also listed under “number of staff who worked as monitors”.

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