Frontex must be more transparent and carry out more stringent migrant screening processes according to a report published by the EU ombudsmans’s office on Wednesday, 19 January.
The EU’s coastal and border guard agency has been under scrutiny for several years over a lack of transparency, alleged failure to properly investigate scandals in its own ranks, and reports of pushbacks of migrants at EU borders.
“Frontex should ensure a more proactive approach to transparency… This includes summaries of operational plans and summaries of parts of the handbooks to the operational plans,” EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said in the report.
Since the migrant crisis in 2015, the agency has developed from a mere support agency to one that exercises control, actively patrolling borders and being present in airports. Their annual operating budget is set to reach EUR 900 million in the next five years.
The report by the EU’s ombudsman aimed to assess whether Frontex complied with EU rules on rights and transparency. It found that it was lacking in several areas.
In addition, it noted the agency should publish “rules on how the Executive Director takes decisions to suspend, terminate or withdraw the financing for Frontex activities for which there are fundamental rights concerns.”
The agency’s mission in Hungary has been suspended as of 2021 following a European Court of Justice ruling that expressed concerns over human rights violations by the Hungarian border guards.
The report also said Frontex should, “provide more details on how to register minors and document the answers to questions asked during the screening process” while ensuring a cultural expert is present during migrant evaluations.
In May last year, three NGOs launched legal action against Frontex for violation the rights of an unaccompanied minor from Burundi and a Congolese woman seeking asylum on the Greek island of Lesbos.
“The case was filed on behalf of two asylum seekers… who, while seeking asylum on EU soil (Lesbos), were violently rounded up, assaulted, robbed, abducted, detained, forcibly transferred back to sea, collectively expelled, and ultimately abandoned on rafts with no means of navigation, food or water,” the statement said.
“The applicants were also victims of other ‘push-back’ operations during their attempts to seek protection in the EU.”
Frontex has been in the spotlight since 2020 when an investigation by several media alleged it was involved with the Greek coast guard in pushing back migrant boats at the Greek and Turkish maritime border.
Additionally, in Albania, where Frontex is mandated to protect the land borders, an investigation yielded claims from those involved in human smuggling, that guards had also been involved in pushing back migrants into Greece.
Frontex maintains there is “no evidence” of illegal migrant pushbacks.