EU: German Presidency: how can Frontex help deport unaccompanied children?


The implementation of the new mandate of EU border agency Frontex is well under way, and the German Presidency of the Council has raised a question with other member states that is likely to spark controversy: how can the agency assist with the deportation of lone children?

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The issue is raised in a paper that was circulated to national delegations in the Council’s Integration, Migration and Expulsion (IMEX) working party on 31 August, which seeks views on “Member States’ needs, potential organisational or legal requirements and/or challenges,” with regard to forced removals, so that “recommendations for implementation by Frontex” can be developed.

See: NOTE from: Presidency: Enhancing cooperation between Member States and Frontex under its expanded mandate in the field of returns (10299/20, LIMITE, 31 August 2020, pdf)

The intention is to propel the implementation of Frontex’s new mandate, based on legislation agreed in late 2019, which gives the agency significant new powers in the field of deportations – as explained in the recent Statewatch report, Deportation Union.

Deporting unaccompanied children

Specifically, the Presidency’s document asks other delegations:

“What do you consider being best practices in preparing returns of (unaccompanied) minors (e.g. in terms of taking the child’s best interest into account, providing age-appropriate information, offering counselling services, taking family unity into account, sharing best practices for member state officials involved in the return of minors)?

Does your Member State see a scope for support from Frontex? And if so, how could Frontex provide support with regard to the various stages of return?”

A report published yesterday by Save the Children (link to pdf) highlights that unaccompanied child migrants and refugees in Europe are facing “harsh border policies, an increase in detention, and obstacles preventing [them] from getting refugee status or reuniting with their families.” The document does not mention these issues, but does make clear that the proposals would mean overturning a ban on Frontex deporting unaccompanied children:

“…at this stage, in line with the recommendations of the Frontex Consultative Forum [on Fundamental Rights] and the current internal Frontex policy for return operations, Frontex does not support the return of unaccompanied minors”.

Aside from stating that, in a strictly legal sense, “such returns are basically possible,” the Presidency provides no arguments as to why this policy should be reversed.

‘Solo’ deportation flights by Frontex

The Presidency also argues that Frontex should be able to coordinate and operate expulsion flights on its own – albeit with the permission of the member states involved – as it “would provide major relief for the Member States most affected.”

One obstacle to this objective appears to be a lack of information – the paper notes that “Frontex would need to have real time information from the Member States at its disposal on the numbers of illegally staying third-country nationals of a particular nationality who could be returned.”

The new legislation underpinning the agency introduces and provides access to a number of new databases and information systems that aim to ensure that this is the case.

With those systems in place, the paper argues that Frontex could:

“develop pro-active and tailor-made support measures; for example, operations could be proposed to organise for multiple Member States where third country nationals reside who are to be returned to the same destination country or who have the same nationality.”

The Presidency asks member states about possible “challenges [that] would need to be taken into account”.

One clear challenge would be the possibility of ensuring adequate accountability for any wrongdoing that may occur on a flight operated solely by Frontex, with only its own staff, escorts and forced return monitors on board.

The agency is now obliged to recruit a number of its own forced return monitors, but as Deportation Union points out: “the independence of the structure is questionable. Frontex funds and manages the pool of forced return monitors, provides training and even selects the individual monitors who will attend operations.”

Forced return escorts

The paper also raises questions regarding member states’ use of Frontex’s forced return ‘escorts’.

While previously the agency made escorts available from a ‘pool’ of staff seconded from national authorities, the Presidency reports that under the new legislation some 170 such officials should be recruited as agency staff in 2021. A further 29 should continue to be seconded from national authorities.

The Presidency’s document notes that the option of deploying escorts from the pool “is apparently not yet fully used by the Member States. This may be due to legal or organisational obstacles.” The document asks member states to identify what those obstacles may be, and how the use of Frontex staff can be promoted in the member states.

The use of escorts and restraint methods is another issue examined in depth in Deportation Union.

‘Voluntary return’ and ‘reintegration’

The Presidency is also aiming to enhance Frontex’s role in the areas of “voluntary return” and “reintegration” – two further areas in which its role was boosted by the 2019 mandate.

Delegations are asked:

  • In what areas would support from Frontex during voluntary returns be most important?
  • From the perspective of your Member State, what are the best practices in regard to promoting voluntary return and reintegration?
  • What aspects should be focused on in particular for the comparison of the various approaches of the Member States regarding voluntary return assistance?

See: NOTE from: Presidency: Enhancing cooperation between Member States and Frontex under its expanded mandate in the field of returns (10299/20, LIMITE, 31 August 2020, pdf)

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