The first 100 days of the New Frontex Director

Op-Ed published in EU Observer, 22 January 2014 

On 15 January 2015, the new Director of Frontex Fabrice Leggeri started his mandate. This top civil servant from the French Ministry of Interior, who also held diplomatic positions, is now in charge of coordinating the border management operations of the EU member states.

He is taking his new function amidst one of the worst contemporary migration crisis. 2014, was the deadliest year for migrants. The number of refugees has never been so high since Second World War. Fatalities in the Mediterranean were the highest.

According to a recent report from The International Organization for Migration (IOM), 22,000 people died during their high-risk journeys to Europe since 2000.

Europe has become the deadliest migration destination in the world, before the US with 6000 fatalities on the border with Mexico for the same period.

François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants has called the EU to stop human deaths and suffering at its borders within the respect of international law. Many voices in civil society campaign for a suspension of the activities of Frontex and contest its legitimacy.

The first 100 days

Yet as argued elsewhere, Frontex is only a smokescreen for national reticence to build a common immigration policy. It is a convenient scapegoat for national policy-makers who are unable to find a collective solution to this crisis and to apprehend migration as a durable phenomenon (see here).

In order to address those challenges, the new director should pay attention to the following points in his 100 first days.

– First, communicate and be modest.

In times of crisis it is crucial to show to the European public what Frontex does best and to acknowledge its weaknesses. Acknowledge that the means, capacities and mandate of Frontex are limited and that the public and the media cannot always wait for Frontex to solve everything. Be honest and transparent about the real capacity and mandate of Frontex in order to avoid unrealistic expectations and the widening of a “Frontex capability-expectation gap” which will continue to fuel frustration.

– Then Frontex and border management should be an integral part of EU’s foreign policy.

The new High Representative F. Mogherini should pay more attention to migration and border control. Frontex should be part of a coherent and coordinated approach with source countries. Having working arrangements with third countries without influencing more importantly the direction of the EU’s foreign policy is not enough. Frontex Director should be systematically consulted by the EEAS services, including on relevant CFSP missions.

– Third, rescue at sea should be at the heart of Frontex mandate, together with a humanitarian approach to the Mediterranean refugee crisis.

Improving those capacities along measures such as the issuance of humanitarian visas for Syrian refugees should be central to any EU refugee policy.

– Exchanging information with Europol should be central to Frontex strategy.

It is time to speed-up the conclusion of the much-awaited operational agreement with Europol. The chartering of cargo ships by organised crime networks is a new step in the industrialisation of human trafficking. This should be stopped and Frontex must play its part by providing all relevant information gathered from its debriefings with migrants to Europol in order to support on-going investigations to bring down those networks.

– Fifth, anchoring the Fundamental Rights Strategy and Ethics in the agency’s daily practice requires more intense educative curriculum, exchange of best practices and a genuine dialogue with civil society and migrants.

Capitalising upon transnational networks with EU member states, international organisations such as UNHCR, the Council of Europe, the OSCE etc. would help to think about ways to improve behaviours and identify operational challenges.

A less Eurocentric approach

Those measures should constitute an integral part of a comprehensive migration approach, which should force the EU to think about opening its border to refugees and setting up large-scale resettlement programmes.

The rapid transformation of migratory fluxes and geopolitics in its neighbourhood should also open a debate on the de-Europeanisation of the management of migration control which would take into account third countries’ needs and capacities.

This requires a less Eurocentric approach as well as a deep and sincere discussion over the legal means of migration to Europe

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