19 January - 1 March 2021

This Frontex-heavy issue of our immigration and asylum round-up includes items looking at criticism of, responses to and inquiries into the agency's alleged involvement in pushbacks in the Aegean, non-compliance with its fundamental rights obligations and a European Parliament inquiry into its mode of operation and internal affairs.

Other articles on Frontex look at whether the agency's cooperation with the EU's military operation in the Mediterranean could assist with pullbacks to Libya; how it seeks to limit scrutiny by chasing  court costs from transparency activists; the covering up of Serious Incident Reports, and how the Ombudsman has failed to ensure third-country nationals have the ability access to documents, despite increasing Frontex interventions beyond the EU's borders.

Most importantly, two legal cases have been brought against Frontex in relation to its activities in Greece: Front-Lex and Lesvos Legal Centre called on the agency to stop its activities in Greece due to routine human rights violations, failing which they may turn to the ECJ; the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) challenges practices that followed the 2016 EU-Turkey statement as amounting to "crimes against humanity". 

This round-up also includes updates on other developments in EU migration management, including the potential deployment of AI to screen and profile passengers travelling to the EU; a report on the "climate-migration nexus" in the Sahel region; governmental harassment of anti-racist NGO KISA in Cyprus; complaints against impunity for human rights violations in Greece, and much more.

26 February 2021

"Artificial intelligence" could be used to screen and profile travellers to the EU

The screening and profiling of tourists and travellers to the EU could be stepped up even further with the use of "artificial intelligence" tools developed by EU agencies as part of the new 'Innnovation Hub for Internal Security'.

25 February 2021

EU states keen for Frontex assistance in deporting unaccompanied children

Member states are broadly supportive of greater Frontex support for the voluntary and forced removal of unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable groups, according to a document obtained by Statewatch. Current policy prevents the border agency from providing support for removal operations themselves, a stance supported by the agency’s fundamental rights consultative body. The Belgian authorities have proposed trying to convince them to change their position.

25 February 2021

New report examines the "climate change–migration nexus" in the Sahel

A new report from the EU's Joint Research Centre seeks to provide "empirical evidence of climate migration and mobility" in a region of the Sahel in Western Africa, in particular by linking "population and migration data to indicators of slow-onset climatic events". The report provides useful context and detail to the often-invoked figures of potentially hundreds of millions or even billions of 'climate refugees' in decades to come.

24 February 2021

Frontex: Agency's initial response to alleged involvement in pushbacks

Statewatch has obtained a note produced by Frontex for the November 2020 Management Board meeting, when the allegations that the agency was involved in or had knowledge of pushbacks in the Aegean were discussed.

23 February 2021

Frontex: European Parliament scrutiny group begins inquiry into rights violations allegations

A permanent European Parliament scrutiny group began work today to “oversee all aspects of the functioning of Frontex”. Launched on 29 January by MEPs in the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee (LIBE), the group is mandated to spend its first four months investigating the allegations of involvement in fundamental rights violations that have dogged the agency since October 2020.

23 February 2021

EU: Legal actions pile up against Frontex for involvement in rights violations

Two recent legal actions accuse Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, of serious violations of the rights of migrants and refugees in Greece.

22 February 2021

Cyprus: 37 organisations call for the reinstatement of anti-racist NGO

An open letter signed by 37 organisations, including Statewatch, denounces the ongoing harassment of KISA and calls on the Cypriot authorities to reinstate their official registration as a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

18 February 2021

Greece: Ongoing impunity for rights violations at the borders is "inhuman"

Six human rights organisations have condemned the Greek and EU authorities in a report that shines a light on the growing use of pushbacks at the Greek-Turkish borders in recent years, continued legal challenges and complaints, and ongoing impunity. The organisations say that "pushbacks have been rising at an alarming rate since March 2020, revealing an unsettling pattern of a practice endangering people’s lives and even inhuman at its essence," and against national, EU and international law.

18 February 2021

EU: Revised "roadmap" for implementing the 2019 Frontex Regulation

The implementation of the 2019 Frontex Regulation has not been as swift as intended - in part due to the impact of the pandemic. However, media reports say that mismanagement and administrative failures have also played a role. The agency has produced a revised timetable for adopting its new roles, which Statewatch is publishing.

17 February 2021

New report examines the experiences of those travelling on the 'Atlantic Route' to Europe

The Mixed Migration Centre has published a new report based on recent interviews with people arriving in the Canary Islands from the coast of West Africa, exploring their motivations for travelling on that route and the risks and dangers faced by them in doing so.

11 February 2021

EU: Revamping the Eurodac database: from asylum to "wider immigration purposes"

A recent briefing published by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) examines in detail the recent proposal to revamp Eurodac, which was originally set up to hold the fingerprints of asylum-seekers and limited categories of 'irregular' migrants. Following changes in 2013 to give police access to the system, more recent proposals will expand its scope even further, with the aim of serving "wider immigration purposes".

11 February 2021

Council of Europe: States must do more to stamp out ethnic profiling

States should pass laws banning ethnic profiling, force the police to take stronger action against racism and ensure clear political leadership against discriminatory practices, says a resolution passed at the end of January by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

11 February 2021

Germany: opposition to ongoing deportations to Afghanistan

96 organizations and initiatives in Germany have condemned the government's ongoing deportations to Afghanistan, a country still at war and in the midst of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

11 February 2021

New report examines the consequences of pandemic measures on migrants and their families

A new report by the Last Rights project - 'Every Body Counts: understanding the consequences of pandemic measures on migrant families' - looks at the ways in which different measures taken to try to control the coronavirus pandemic have affected migrants and their families.

11 February 2021

Ombudsman fails non-EU citizens in Frontex access to documents decision

Recent Statewatch complaints to the European Ombudsman have resulted in significant victories for transparency over the activities of EU justice and home affairs agencies, but one decision made by the Ombudsman approves of restrictions placed by Frontex on the right of non-EU citizens to file requests for access to documents.

9 February 2021

Migration and asylum: updates to the EU-Africa 'Joint Valletta Action Plan' on the way

In November 2015 European and African heads of state met at a summit in Valletta, Malta, "to discuss a coordinated answer to the crisis of migration and refugee governance in Europe." Since then joint activities on migration and asylum have increased significantly, according to documents published here by Statewatch. The Council is now examining an update to the 'Joint Valletta Action Plan' (JVAP) and considering how to give it "a renewed sense of purpose".

8 February 2021

Tarajal memorial protests: "Faced with their deadly policies: we remember, defend life and demand rights"

On 6 February the eighth annual march to commemorate the deaths of at least 14 people trying to cross the border at Tarajal beach, in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, took place. Demonstrations were held in Ceuta and Melilla, cities across the Spanish mainland, as well as in Frankfurt and Dakar. A manifesto published on the day of the protests calls for "a Europe that is open to diversity, which invests resources into receiving and regulating instead of controlling, arresting and deporting."

5 February 2021

France: Legal case seeks an end to ethnic profiling by police

A group of human rights organisations have initiated legal proceedings against the French state for its failure to halt police racism, in particular as manifested through the long-standing practice of ethnic profiling by police officers.

5 February 2021

Greece accused of committing crimes against humanity at its borders

A new report by Legal Centre Lesvos accuses the Greek state of committing crimes against humanity at its borders, given the "widespread, systematic and violent" nature of the ongoing collective expulsions of people trying to reach EU territory. The report is based on testimonies from more than 50 people subjected to collective expulsions; it analyses their experiences and the practices of the Greek authorities in light of the statute of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

5 February 2021

EU: Secrecy of border control 'lie detector' research project examined in court

Patrick Breyer MEP is seeking the release of documents produced by the EU-funded iBorderCtrl research project, which sought to produce an automated 'lie detector' to assess the trusworthiness of travellers at the EU's borders. His efforts have taken him to the Court of Justice of the EU, where today the arguments of the parties in the case - Breyer and the EU's Research Executive Agency - were heard.

4 February 2021

Frontex: Management Board pushes back against secrecy proposals in preliminary report

Statewatch is publishing the preliminary report of the working group set up by the agency's Management Board following allegations of involvement in pushbacks from Turkey to Greece. Amongst other things, the report indicates that Frontex has proposed labelling Serious Incident Reports as EU Classified Information, which would reduce transparency and, in turn, accountability.

2 February 2021

EU: Recruitment of Frontex "standing corps" of border guards not going to plan

The establishment of a new "standing corps" of border guards directly employed by Frontex was revered by the agency as a “game changer” when it was introduced in the 2019 recast of the agency’s legislation. Since then, it has been scrambling to fulfil the new staffing obligations, and the Management Board is not happy with the agency's efforts.

1 February 2021

EU-Afghanistan informal deportation agreement - full text of the new 'Joint Declaration'

A renewed 'Joint Declaration on Migration Cooperation between Afghanistan and the EU' is heading for approval by the Council of the EU. The Declaration is an informal agreement that facilitates forced removals from EU member states to Afghanistan, a country still facing conflict, violence and instability.

29 January 2021

EU's proposed screening rules for migrants are based on "failed and violent" Greek law

The EU's proposed 'Screening Regulation', published as part of the Pact on Migration and Asylum, foresees "pre-entry screening that should be applicable to all third-country nationals who are present at the external border without fulfilling the entry conditions or after disembarkation, following a search and rescue operation." Many of the provisions correspond to those introduced in Greek law in recent years, say a group of NGOs. They argue that understanding these similarities is essential for "preventing the entrenchment of failed and violent border policies in the ‘new‘ EU Pact on Migration and Asylum."

29 January 2021

Living conditions in Greek hotspots under examination at the European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is examining living conditions in four of the five "hotspots" in Greece, in which migrants and refugees are 'housed' in appalling conditions. The ECHR recently asked the Greek government a number of questions in relation to the cases, and HIAS Greece and Equal Rights Beyond Borders - representing four of the individuals with cases before the court - say they "demonstrate the structural illegality and impossibility to implement the hotspot approach and border procedures in a way that does not violate human rights," with serious implications for the ongoing attempt to introduce new EU legislation on border procedures for assessing asylum applications.

29 January 2021

How the Five Eyes countries share immigration data

The 'Five Eyes' countries - Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA - are perhaps best known for their role in global spying and surveillance for the purposes of "national security". However, this is not the only way in which they cooperate. A report for Radio New Zealand looks at how and why they share immigration data.

28 January 2021

UNHCR warns asylum under attack at Europe’s borders, urges end to pushbacks and violence against refugees

In a press release, the UNHCR calls on European states to "investigate and halt" pushbacks and violence against refugees, about which it has received a "continuous stream" of reports.

28 January 2021

Denmark: Lowest number of asylum seekers ever

A report for the EU's European Website on Integration notes that Denmark appears to be rapidly approaching its goal of receiving no asylum-seekers whatsoever. In 2020 just over 1,500 people sought asylum in the country, the lowest number since the country's current statistical methods were introduced in 1998. The Immigration and Integration Minister cited coronavirus as one reason for this drop in numbers, but said "we can also thank our strict policy on foreigners for this."

28 January 2021

The role of technology in illegal pushbacks from Croatia to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia

Border Violence Monitoring Network has published its submission to a recent UN Special Rapporteur inquiry on race, borders and digital technologies. The submission highlights how "drones, thermal imaging cameras, and vehicle scanners have been weaponised against people-on-the-move, making them easier to detect and thus compounding their vulnerability and the dangers they face."

28 January 2021

EU: Frontex and pushbacks: Management Board "very concerned" over agency’s compliance with investigation

Frontex’s Management Board met on 20-21 January 2021 to discuss the preliminary report of its ‘Working Group on Fundamental Rights and Legal Operational Aspects of Operations in the Aegean Sea’. Its conclusions express concern over the agency’s compliance with the investigation.

28 January 2021

Italy let more than 200 people die in 2013 shipwreck, finds UN Human Rights Committee

In October 2013 more than 200 people died in a shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa. Some of those who survived ended up coming ashore in Libya. They subsequently filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee, which has now ruled that Italy failed to uphold the right to life of those involved in the shipwreck.

27 January 2021

EU: Frontex unrepentant about chasing transparency activists for court costs

Fabrice Leggeri, director of the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency, recently defended the continued pursuit of five-figure legal fees from two transparency activists, despite heavy criticism from MEPs.

27 January 2021

Italy: Court of Auditors should investigate use of public funds in Libyan detention centres, say ASGI

The Italian legal organisation ASGI (Associazione Studi Giuridici sull'Immigrazione) has called on the Italian Court of Auditors to investigate the use of public funds for detention centres in Libyan, noting in a press release that Italian NGOs appear to have carried out "a series of actions pursuing the benefit not of the detainees but of the detention facilities".

26 January 2021

When informal means illegal: Italian interior ministry guilty of pushbacks to Slovenia

A court in Rome has ruled that “informal readmissions” from Italy to Slovenia are unlawful, in a case concerning a Pakistani asylum seeker who was subjected to a series of violent pushbacks stretching from Italy to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

25 January 2021

EU: Agreement between Frontex and Mediterranean military force: cooperation on pullbacks to Libya?

A new agreement between Frontex and Operation Irini aims to increase cooperation on "the promotion of European integrated border management standards" and "situational awareness and risk analysis". Critics are likely to question whether the agreement will support ‘pullbacks’ by the so-called Libyan coast guard.

21 January 2021

Shipwreck off Libya claims over 40 lives

Press release published by the IOM and UNHCR, 20 January 2021. The first known shipwreck in the Mediterranean this year has claimed the lives of 43 people.

21 January 2021

European Parliament Think Tank: briefings on counter-terrorism, migrant smuggling, search and rescue

The European Parliament Think Tank has recently published new briefings on a number of key topics: understanding EU counter-terrorism policy, EU action against migrant smuggling and search and rescue in the Mediterranean.

18 January 2021

EU: Frontex director accused of misleading parliament over fundamental rights obligations

Frontex director Fabrice Leggeri has been accused by a senior European Commission official of making statements “in a misleading manner” at a parliamentary hearing in December, when MEPs questioned him over the agency’s alleged role in pushbacks and the new fundamental rights monitoring framework included in 2019 legislation.


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