The European Union’s border and coast guard agency need to make its operational plans more transparent and carry out more rigorous migrant screening procedures, especially for minors, according to a report published by the EU ombudsman’s office on Wednesday (19 January).
The report comes as Frontex has been under increased scrutiny for failing to meet transparency requirements, as well as over allegations of violating the human rights of certain people seeking asylum while forcefully returning other migrants to non-EU countries.
Since the 2015 migration crisis, Frontex has extended its responsibilities from a support and coordination agency to operational control at borders, with an annual budget set to be 900 million euros($1.02 billion) by 2027.
The ombudsman’s report was aimed at assessing whether Frontex was complying with the agency’s fundamental rights and transparency requirements under EU rules.
“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 her report.
The report added that the agency should publish “its 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.”
Frontex suspended its mission in Hungary in 2021 after a European Court of Justice ruling expressed worries over human rights abuses by the Hungarian border guard.
Finally, it 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.