Frontex releases ‘fundamental rights strategy’

EU border agency will commit itself to European human rights conventions and case-law.

Frontex, the EU’s border agency, is committing itself to the respect of international and European human rights conventions as part of its ‘fundamental rights strategy’.

The agency said that as an EU agency, it will respect the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice, and most importantly, the principle of non-refoulement enshrined in the 1951 Geneva Convention.

That means Frontex will not engage in the illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers that until recently were actively pursued by Italy in collaboration with Gaddafi.

Frontex said the new guidelines will “develop and promote a shared understanding of fundamental rights among the entire European Union (EU) border-guard community and integrate this also into the cooperation with Third Countries.”

The eight-page document sets out the objectives, legal and political context, operational implications and implementation plan for the strategy.

Whilst Member States remain primarily responsible for the Fundamental Rights at their own borders, Frontex said during Joint Operations it felt necessary to formalise and unify the approaches of different Member States.

In the past, member states participating in Frontex missions were accused of seizing fuel and food to force migrants crossing the Mediterranean to return to their point of departure.

However, Frontex said, the guidelines do not relieve the agency of its responsibilities as the coordinator: Frontex remains fully accountable for all actions and decisions under its mandate.

This strategy will be implemented by an Action Plan which has been requested by the Frontex Management Board with a view to adopting it at the next meeting on May 24.

Frontex Executive director Ilkka Laitinen said fundamental rights and human dignity have always been at the heart of Frontex’s values. “They are a founding principle of the EU itself and enshrined in the Lisbon treaty. It gives me great personal satisfaction to see the Member States, via the Management Board, so clearly endorse that commitment.”

Frontex said the strategy’s proper implementation, is “essential for the credibility and reputation of Frontex and the entire EU border-guard community.” It added that, especially the European Council, EU policymakers have a crucial role in supporting this strategy, which “reflects the EU’s overall strategy in this field.”

In 2008, Laitenen had admitted that the “increased EU patrols in the Mediterranean are failing to prevent an increase in clandestine migrants reaching Italy, Malta and Greece by sea”.

During the summer of the same year, Rome and Tripoli had signed the Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation Treaty, part of which included the return policy.

More commonly known as ‘Italy’s push-back policy’, Italy had embarked on a new policy: taking back to Libya migrants rescued in international waters. This policy had however faced criticism from the United Nations, the Catholic Church and humanitarian organisations.

One thing was certain at the time – Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni had said the “return policy has proven successful” and had added that Libya was doing “a major job in preventing human trafficking in its own territories.”

But as expected, once the Libya crisis erupted almost half a million people fled Libya, mostly to Tunisia and Egypt, but now also to EU countries. According to the Italian Ministry of Interior, some 22,000 people from North Africa, and mostly from Tunisia, reached Lampedusa and Sicily by boat.

Last week Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said Italy had solid information that fleeing refugees from Libya were aided by military and police personnel.

Last week, some 816 Eritreans and Somalis landed in Malta in just 24 hours. According to MEP Simon Busuttil, “this number is equivalent to 120,000 who would land in France in one day”.

That same week, Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici wrote to Laitinen and the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström, suggesting the setting up of a ‘Joint Processing Centre’ to address the possibility of a mass refugee crisis arising from the Libyan conflict.

Laitinen, however, responded by offering an alternative mechanism: a rapid reaction response, whereby a member state makes a request, logistical aid is provided within a limited time.

But Mifsud Bonnici declined the offer, stating it would only be acceptable if one of his government’s two proposals – a refugee centre or the enactment of the emergency solidarity mechanism – is also part of the agreement.

Last year, Malta pulled out of Frontex after it objected to the agency’s guidelines that rescued migrants would have to be taken to the nearest port hosting anti-migrant mission rather than to the nearest safe port as had been the case for years.

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Talk, talk talk and no action. THat is how the western world has become. A lot of geniouses and little action and everyone is trying to pass the buck - as the old americans use to say.