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The Maastricht Diplomat

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[EurACTIV] Behind the Border: FRONTEX controversies in European Migration Crisis

EuroMUN 2023 has seen the Heads of State and Government of the European Council debating over the asylum mechanism and a policy for a fairer share of migrants across the Union. The past five sessions have covered a variety of topics, ranging from external border protection to legal pathways of migration. During one of the points of deadlock, a representative of FRONTEX was then called in to give insights into the migration issue. Delegates were given the opportunity to debate and ask questions to the FRONTEX expert to further assess how the organisation could be used as a tool to improve European migration policies. Knowing the history of FRONTEX operation in the Mediterranean, this choice can however be seen as somewhat controversial.

FRONTEX, also known as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is the European Union coast guard organisation. Since their founding in 2004, they have been in charge of the border control of the Schengen Area; protecting the EU external border and ensuring that the principle of freedom of movement and security are upheld. Frontex significantly played a leading role during the 2015-2016 European migration crisis. During this period, due to the gravity of the crisis, FRONTEX was assigned greater responsibilities which resulted in greater power and higher budget allocation. Now in 2023, FRONTEX continues to be part of the EU migration operations and it is once again used as a tool by the EU to face the current crisis.

However, FRONTEX has been increasingly questioned over its ability to handle the migration crisis and, most importantly, whether it is able to continue its operations and still uphold the principles of fundamental human rights. Indeed, the organisation has been involved in a number of scandals and has been called out multiple times due to misconduct when handling migrants at border control.

Criticism revolving around FRONTEX has looked into human rights abuses, lack of transparency and accountability, inadequacy over search and rescue operations as well as lacking a real comprehensive approach that can better solve the migration crisis. For example, only last year FRONTEX was found complicit during investigations over the Greek efforts to return migrants crossing into the European Union from Turkey. The agency was not only a partner of Greek actions but was also found guilty of covering up the whole issue. Additionally, further cases have seen FRONTEX complicity in violating EU human rights laws as it pushed back migrants at the border.

Additionally, various concerns have often been raised over the ability of FRONTEX to meet transparency and accountability standards. The issue of transparency is not only crucial to ensure that the agency aligns to EU human rights standards, but it is also essential for maintaining public trust in EU operations. FRONTEX has to be made accountable for its actions which means that more reports on the agency plans should be made available.

Although we cannot rule out the role of FRONTEX and its usefulness as a tool for the European Union, the Heads of State and Government should also not turn a blind eye on its questionable legacy. It is indeed no surprise that the only moment on which the European Council found unanimous agreement was when the called upon FRONTEX expert described themselves as a “slightly racist, heterosexual, white male”.

- Marta De Grandi, Migration Policy Correspondent for EurACTIV


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