Portugal will organise a meeting with the board of directors and the executive director of Frontex to ensure “European law” and “established rules” are respected, Eduardo Cabrita, Portugal’s minister for internal administration, said on Thursday (4 February).
“We will take the initiative to meet with Frontex’s management board and its executive director before the March Council to analyse what is needed to ensure that Frontex meets its objectives,” Cabrita said during a hearing in the European Parliament’s committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs.
The minister also said that Portugal would present an “assessment of the situation” of the agency responsible for the EU’s border protection during its six-month presidency of the EU Council, which started in January.
The new mandate of Frontex gives the agency greater responsibility, the minister stressed.
“That is why it is so essential that Frontex acts under the rule of law, with respect for fundamental rights, and that it completes its obligation to have a scrutiny mechanism with a human rights officer,” he said.
During his appearance in Parliament, Cabrita came under fire by the leader of the PSD delegation, Paulo Rangel, who asked whether Portugal was “in a position to guarantee” that “no citizen of a third country” goes through the same ordeal as Ukrainian citizen Ihor Homeniuk who died at Lisbon airport in in March 2020 after being detained for refusing to board a flight out of the country.
“What happened in March at Lisbon airport was a tragic incident,” Cabrita replied, saying the government “immediately suspended” those responsible for border police at Lisbon airport.
“The trial of this crime is now, in less than a year, underway,” he said.
He reiterated: “Our commitment is that Frontex must respect European law, it must respect the rules that are established in its organisation”.
The review of Frontex’s mandate, approved in 2019, provided for the gradual creation of a force of 10,000 border guards by 2027 – with the recruitment of 5,000 officials this year – and the possibility of using firearms depending on the authorisation of the host country.
Frontex has also committed to recruiting 40 officials to ensure it respects fundamental rights. But with the December 2020 deadline looming, the agency announced that it has postponed the recruitment process because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Frontex is accused of having prevented migrants from entering Europe on several occasions between March and August 2020.
At issue is a report published on 23 October 2020 by several European media outlets – including Der Spiegel and Bellingcat – which reported that Frontex personnel had been complicit in Greek navy operations forcing migrant boats to return to Turkey.
On 1 December, the director of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, in a hearing before the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs rejected the accusations, stating that there was “no evidence” of Frontex’s involvement.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]