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Decision in OI/4/2021/MHZ on how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) complies with its fundamental rights obligations and ensures accountability in relation to its enhanced responsibilities

Monday | 18 July 2022

This own-initiative inquiry assessed how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) is complying with its fundamental rights and transparency obligations under Regulation 2019/1896 (‘the Frontex Regulation’), which expanded Frontex’s mandate.

The inquiry looked into how Frontex ensures the transparency of its ‘operational plans’, which define the parameters of its operations, and how it decides to suspend, terminate or not launch an activity due to fundamental rights concerns. The inquiry also assessed the monitoring of fundamental rights compliance in forced returns and Frontex’s guidance for the screening process of undocumented individuals who cross or attempt to cross an external EU border irregularly.

Based on the inquiry, the Ombudsman set out a series of suggestions to Frontex, with a view to improving its accountability. The Ombudsman encourages Frontex to be proactively transparent in relation to operational plans and the fundamental rights analysis on which its Executive Director bases decisions to launch, suspend or terminate operations. She suggests that Frontex issue specific instructions to ‘screening teams’ that carry out interviews of refugees. The Ombudsman also encourages Frontex to improve the monitoring of forced returns in which those escorting returnees are Frontex staff and to guarantee better reporting of monitoring operations.

Decision in OI/5/2020/MHZ on the functioning of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency's (Frontex) complaints mechanism for alleged breaches of fundamental rights and the role of the Fundamental Rights Officer

Wednesday | 08 June 2022

The Ombudsman opened an inquiry on her own initiative to look into how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) deals with alleged breaches of fundamental rights through its ‘complaints mechanism’, and to address the role and independence of Frontex’s Fundamental Rights Officer in this regard.

In the context of a previous inquiry, the Ombudsman recommended the creation of an independent mechanism for handling complaints about Frontex operations. The complaints mechanism was approved by the EU legislators, and became operational in 2016.

Through the complaints mechanism, Frontex deals with complaints from individuals who believe their fundamental rights have been violated in the context of Frontex operations. The Fundamental Rights Officer’s role is to deal directly with complaints about the actions of Frontex staff members, as well as to ensure that complaints about the staff of national authorities involved in Frontex operations are dealt with properly by the relevant authorities. 

This inquiry aimed to assess how Frontex has implemented new rules concerning the complaints mechanism and the Fundamental Rights Officer, which came into force in November 2019. It also sought to assess the overall effectiveness of the complaints mechanism, against a background of public concerns about fundamental rights violations in the context of Frontex operations.

Since its creation, the complaints mechanism has dealt with a very low number of complaints, with no complaints as yet concerning the actions of Frontex staff members. Between 2016 and January 2021, the Fundamental Rights Officer had received 69 complaints of which 22 were admissible. With operations made up of staff members from different bodies, who are responsible to different authorities, it may be difficult for potential complainants to identify the alleged perpetrators and to understand how and to whom they can report alleged violations, and seek redress through the appropriate channels.

In this inquiry, the Ombudsman also reviewed complaints dealt with by the complaints mechanism and identified various potential shortcomings that may make it more difficult for individuals to report alleged fundamental rights violations and seek redress. The Ombudsman’s inquiry also identified delays by Frontex in implementing its new obligations concerning the complaints mechanism and the Fundamental Rights Officer.

Based on the inquiry, the Ombudsman sets out a series of suggestions for improvement to Frontex, with a view to improving the accessibility of the complaints mechanism for potential victims of fundamental rights violations and strengthening the accountability of Frontex operations and all those involved therein. These include suggestions on how to make it easier for potential victims of fundamental rights violations to be aware of redress possibilities and to report incidents, as well as suggestions to improve how complaints are handled and followed up on.