European Parliament Frontex Scrutiny Working Group
Speech - City Brussels - Country Belgium - Date Friday | 21 May 2021
- Thank you for the invitation.
- As you are aware, I have recently opened two separate own-initiative inquiries into aspects of Frontex’s work, notably with regards to its fundamental rights obligations.
- These have been, in part, motivated by issues that have been brought to my attention by complainants, but also by my national counterparts in the European Network of Ombudsmen, as well as by civil society organisations and other sources. Our inquiries are based also on previous inquiries conducted several years ago.
- We recognise that Frontex has a difficult task as it confronts the political demand legitimate need to control Europe’s borders while ensuring a rights-based approach to migration policy. Frontex has to ensure safe and well-functioning external borders but also ensure that all those participating in its operations do so as well. In addition, it must also be possible for any victims of fundamental rights violations to hold Frontex to account.
- The first own-initiative Ombudsman inquiry into Frontex concluded in 2013, resulted eventually in the establishment of a ‘complaints mechanism’ with a ‘Fundamental Rights Officer’ (FRO) to ensure a formalised system of accountability. I welcome that a new FRO has been recently appointed and wish him well in his role.
- In 2014, I launched an inquiry into how Frontex, in its role in coordinating the forced returns of irregular migrants in ‘Joint Return Operations’. I emphasised the need for independent and effective monitoring of returns. I suggested that Frontex enhance its transparency, amend its Code of Conduct in areas such as medical examinations, provide human rights training, and engage more with national authorities.
- In November of last year, I launched a third own-initiative inquiry, based on concerns that the complaints mechanism may not be functioning effectively and that the FRO may not have been properly enabled to fulfil its independent role and mandate.
- My national counterparts are also participating in this parallel inquiry, through the European Network of Ombudsmen.
- My inquiry is now at an advanced stage. It is already clear that the FRO and her team have worked hard to develop the role and exercise it independently but, so far, their work has mainly concerned national bodies; with no complaints to date against any Frontex staff member. There has been fewer than 10 admissible complaints per year which begs the question as to the extent to which potential complainants are aware of, or made aware of, the possibility to complain against Frontex directly and how to do it under what are likely to be challenging circumstances.
- In her reply to me, the then FRO outlined several weaknesses to be addressed:
- better and more timely responses by national authorities involved;
- more tools for her in case of no reply by national authorities;
- In Frontex’s separate reply to my questions, they outlined:
- the process for drafting and implementing rules to update the Complaints Mechanism
- what action Frontex takes if a forced return is scheduled for an individual whose complaint to the FRO is pending
- the views on possible specific timeframes for the Executive Director and FRO to examine complaints
- how it will ensure that the FRO can operate independently and what capacity and resources are made available to him
- And what steps has Frontex taken to ensure that its Complaints Mechanism is more accessible, for example via a smartphone
- In February of this year, I launched a fourth own-initiative inquiry concerning the transparency and accountability of Frontex’s work to identify the transparency gaps in all of Frontex operations.
- I am trying to determine what specific guidance or instructions Frontex provides to its own migration support teams on the protection of fundamental rights. I also want to know more about how Frontex uses or intends to use its power not to launch operations if serious fundamental rights violations are occurring and are likely to persist.
- By providing greater transparency around any non-confidential content from operational documents, showing who is involved in what aspects of joint operations and which entity - Frontex or the national authority – it will be easier to see who should be held accountable for their actions.
- Frontex also stated that the Executive Director may decide, after consultation with the FRO, not to launch any activity where there could be serious concerns that the activity could provoke possible violations of fundamental rights or international protection obligations.
- Last year, the FRO put forward the Fundamental Rights due Diligence Procedure to assess the fundamental rights risks. And also developed a catalogue of measures to mitigate the fundamental rights risks identified as a result of the due diligence assessment.
- Frontex says that it is now working on specific rules about post-arrival and post-return support, including for vulnerable groups.
- Member States will be however be solely responsible for indicating who is entitled to receive (how much and what type) reintegration support.
- Frontex has now also discussions with International Organisation for Migration to explore possible areas of cooperation in the pre-return, returns and post-arrival and post-return stages of the return process.
- Frontex has also established a pool of forced-return monitors from competent bodies of the Member States and will contribute to it with 5 fundamental rights monitors assigned by the FRO.
- The full responses of Frontex to both my ongoing inquiries are on our website, which we are still assessing, and I would be very pleased to keep you updated on our ongoing investigations and let you know what conclusions we reach.
- My colleague, Marta HIRSCH-ZIEMBINSKA, is responsible for these inquiries in my Office and we are happy to answer any of your questions.
- Thank you.