The refugee crisis: a humanitarian emergency

25 March - 16 April 2021

We are delighted to unveil our updated and improved Observatory on Frontex, focusing on its transparency and accountability, alongside a policy brief by Ilaria Aversa and Mariana Gkliati on ongoing investigations and inquiries into the agency's activities. This round-up includes news on Frontex's denial that it recruits informants (despite acquiring training to do so) and internal letters that shed light on the agency's failure to recruit fundamental rights officers and moves to restrain their independence. Further, plans are afoot to use AI as a "forecasting and early warning tool for migration" and set up a biometric population database in Senegal to facilitate the deportation of its citizens from the European Union. 

Elsewhere, APDHA reports that a record number of people (1,700) died while trying to reach Spanish territory in 2020, a protest against EU migration and asylum policies was held outside the CDU's headquarters in Berlin, and UK Home Secretary Priti Patel was asked to explain inconsistencies between her testimony before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee and the findings of an independent inspection on disused military barracks used to house asylum-seekers.  

A call for renewed action to protect the rights of migrants, refugees and people on the move across the globe came from the European Social Forum on Migration, in a Declaration by "300 social movements, civil society organisations, migrants' associations, unions, migrant and refugee people activists and academics". Evidence of such problems includes a Jesuit Refugee Service report on the pandemic's effects on asylum seeker reception facilities, the 10-year anniversary (without justice) of the "Left-to-Die" boat in which 63 people perished despite authorities knowing about it, while the expulsion of human rights defender Helena Maleno (of Caminando Fronteras) from Morocco reminds us that externalised EU migration policy leads to concerted EU and third-state attacks against solidarity, civil society and the right to information.

Regarding the European Pact on Asylum and Immigration whose adoption procedure is under discussion, the Council Legal Service identified problems in proposed measures, including the Commission resorting to "hybrid acts" by drawing on various legal sources in ways that undermine the EU legal order's coherence. 

2 March - 24 March 2021

The criminalisation of solidarity in Europe continues, as highlighted in a report by Choose Love on the pressure that Greece is placing on civil society actors helping refugees and the umpteenth set of charges levelled at 21 members of search and rescue crews in Italy. Even where organisations are able to rescue people at sea, those whom are brought ashore face a "lottery from the sea to hotspots and back to unsafety", says another report, which proposes alternatives to the ad-hoc relocation mechanism that leads to human rights violations for people disembarked in maritime border states.

Regarding the Frontex pushbacks scandal, its correspondence with national and EU authorities provides telling details of how these bodies interact, including evidence that a Danish helicopter crew was convinced to change its account of what it witnessed in the Aegean. Apart from this, Frontex is pushing ahead with plans to develop its intelligence capabilities to interrogate and question suspects, recruit informants and generally obtain "intelligence" to justify interventions.

This growth in the agency's intelligence-gathering capabilities fits within a pattern. The EU is developing a new architecture for borders, migration and security databases, described as a "paradigm shift" - and rules on a new "permission to travel" scheme that are part of these plans have been provisionally agreed. The EU and member states are also boosting the "external dimension" (with all it entails in terms of human rights abuses and systemic discrimination) under the Pact on Asylum and Migration, with attention initially going to North Africa. On this latter point, a new ActionAid report documents the use of Italian and EU funding in Libya, amid plans to turn the North African country into a "wall" for Europe.

Finally, the European Parliament Think Tank has published three briefings: on the recasting of the Returns Directive, a proposed common asylum procedure and on pushbacks at external borders - an ongoing illegal practice that should be much higher on the public agenda.

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.

8 December 2020 - 18 January 2021


  • EU: Renewed deportation agreement with Afghanistan close to approval
  • Greece: Legal actors express serious concerns regarding the lack of state free legal aid for asylum applicants in Lesvos
  • Death on the Central Mediterranean: 2013-2020
  • EU: The 'Black Book of Pushbacks': testimonies of pushbacks affecting over 12,000 people
  • Mediterranean: Nine new legal proceedings against civil search and rescue ships since June 2020

17 November - 7 December 2020


  • Frontex: Billion-euro border agency sues transparency activists
  • Locked up and excluded: Informal and illegal detention in Spain, Greece, Italy and Germany
  • European Parliament: compliance with migration control measures should be a condition for receiving EU development aid
  • UK: Deadly crossings: nearly 300 border-related deaths in and around the English Channel since 1999
  • Addicted to denial: Greek government dismisses official report documenting pushbacks to Turkey

27 October - 16 November 2020


  • History repeats itself again as hundreds of people die in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic
  • Greek authorities arrest father of 6-year-old who drowned off the coast of Samos
  • EU: Tracking the Pact: European Commission presentation on "solidarity mechanisms"
  • EU: Tracking the Pact: Presidency placing heavy emphasis on externalisation, deportations, border controls
  • Pullback to Turkey organised by Greek official on German boat as part of Frontex operation

13-26 October 2020


  • UK: Channel asylum seekers face "a Dover to Deportation pipeline" with no legal advice or support
  • EU: Greece draws up requirements for member state militaries' role in border control
  • EU: Tracking the Pact: Reinforced cooperation against migrant smuggling with Balkan and African "partners"
  • EU: Frontex on cooperation with Libya: nothing to see here

29 September - 12 October 2020


  • Greece: On Lesvos, migrants and their supporters continue to suffer at the hands of the authorities
  • EU: Deportations to Afghanistan: member states want to simplify expulsion of "vulnerable groups"
  • UK considers imitating Australia's brutal off-shoring of asylum seekers
  • EU: Advice of Frontex Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights still falls on deaf ears
  • EU: Tracking the Pact: Secret documents on reception conditions and qualification for international protection

25 August-28 September 2020


  • Frontex: No human rights monitoring of 20% of flights; "standing corps" recruitment continues; revamped complaints mechanism shrouded in secrecy
  • The new "pact" on migration and asylum - documentation, context and reactions
  • Moria: Lack of support for those left without shelter; call for immediate evacuation
  • EU: German Presidency: how can Frontex help deport unaccompanied children?

4-24 August 2020


  • German naval deployments sit back and watch illegal deportations by the Greek authorities
  • EU’s planned ‘deportation machine’: expensive, dangerous and lacking in transparency and accountability measures
  • Spain introduces new Guardia Civil unit, reinforcing the militarisation of the southern border
  • The legal battle to hold the EU to account for Libya migrant abuses
  • After six long years, no justice for border deaths and pushbacks to Morocco from Spain


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