Frontex patrols the coast of Lesbos, 2015 / Photo: picture alliance/S. Palacios
Frontex patrols the coast of Lesbos, 2015 / Photo: picture alliance/S. Palacios

European leaders have already agreed to a massive boost for the border protection agency, Frontex. The incoming head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, wants to bring forward the expansion.

Europe needs more people guarding its borders and sooner rather than later. Soon after she was elected in July, the European Commission's next president, Ursula von der Leyen, declared that the reform of Europe's border and coast guard agency should be brought forward three years, to 2024. The former German defense minister repeated the call during a visit this week to Bulgaria which shares a border with Turkey and counts Frontex as an ally.

About 80 migrants arrive in the Czech Republic October 2015  Photo picture allianceL Zavoral

Expansion plans

The European Commission announced in September 2018, two years after Frontex came into being as a functioning border and coast guard agency, that the organization would be expanded. Then president, Jean-Claude Juncker, proposed that 8,400 more border guards be recruited, in addition to the existing 1,500. "External borders must be protected more effectively," Juncker said.

In May this year, the European Commissioner for Migration, Dimitiris Avramopoulos, confirmed that 10,000 armed guards would be deployed by 2027 to patrol the EU's land and sea borders and significantly strengthen the existing force.

The EU guards would intercept new arrivals, stop unauthorized travel and accelerate the return of people whose asylum claim had failed, according to the IPS news agency. The guards would also be able to operate outside Europe, with the consent of the third country governments.

"The agency will better and more actively support member states in the area of return in order to improve the European Union’s response to persisting migratory challenges," Avramopoulos said.

An officer patrolling for the European border patrol agency Frontex | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Christian CharisiusWhat does Frontex do?

Frontex was set up in 2004 to support the EU control its external land, air and sea borders. In 2016 it was overhauled and in 2018 received a budget of 320 million euros. The agency coordinates the deployment of border guards, boats and helicopters where they are needed to tackle "migratory pressure."

Frontex assesses how ready each EU member state is to face challenges at its external borders. It coordinates a pool of border guards, provided by member states, to be deployed quickly at the external borders. 

The agency's other main functions are to help with forced returns of migrants and organize voluntary departures from Europe. It also collects and shares information related to migrant smuggling, trafficking and terrorism.

Misguided approach

While the Frontex approach of strengthening border controls has been welcomed by many of Europe's leaders, some say this law-and-order solution does not work. Instead, civil society, human rights groups and other critics say hardening borders simply forces migrants to switch to new and often more dangerous routes.

As Frontex itself said earlier this year, there is no longer a "burning crisis" of migration in Europe, as the number of migrants and refugees reaching the continent has dropped dramatically. Yet the risks of dying in the attempt to reach Europe, especially in the Mediterranean, have risen for the past four consecutive years. Part of Frontex' mandate is to save lives at sea, but critics say its raison d'etre is the protection of borders, not the protection of lives.

Frontex authorities have assisted in sending refugees in Greece back to Turkey | Photo: Reuters/G.MoutafisAbuse claims

In August, media reports claimed that Frontex border guards had tolerated violence against migrants and were themselves responsible for inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Frontex denied that any of its officers had violated human rights. A spokesperson for the European Commission, Mina Andreeva, said the allegations would be followed up.

 

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