It is people what I’d like to write about, it is about object we end up talking. Treated as goods, or either as-through the uncountable services they provide us, immigrants seeking a better life see their dream, or ‘Game’ as they call it in the Balkan rout, blocked by the Frontex agents. ‘Our’ European Border and Coast Guard Agency. No matter the perspective through which we touch upon the topic, it is paramount to keep in mind the fact that we are talking about people. And it is often people like us, with a normal everyday job, or laureates’ young minds, who try to cross multiple foreign state borders to get to Europe. From their home country, and throughout the ‘journey’, they aim to Europe as the land of freedoms. Where eventually, and after some ordinary sacrifices (usual difficulties encountered by a person/family moving to a different country), no more coldhearted affliction will threat their humble life. No oppression for the political side on which they are on, the freedom to practice their own religion or the possibility to send their children to school. All dreams. Expectations wrecked once they pass the European borders.
Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is an agency of the European Union whose duty, in coordination with the border and coast guard of the Schengen Area member states, is to ‘ensure safe and well-functioning external borders providing security’, as we can read from their official website. Their agents are both present on land and in the sea, and their main concerns for the past years have been migration waves. Born as a European border-management agency in 2004, Frontex’s mandate was later extended and transformed into a full-fledged European agency by the European Commission to react to the European migrant crisis of 2015-2016. It is now this causal link that raises the higher number of doubts. Are we (both EU citizens and EU administrative bodies) keeping the agency, employer of the single agents present on the ground, accountable for its employees’ behavior? How do they treat immigrants once they cross the European borders? Do the agents act in full respect of those European core objectives and values well-written on the various EU treaties? Finally, without even considering these European standpoints, to make the claim fair and simple, are human rights respected by the Frontex and MSs border control agents?
The ‘land’ hotspots on the Frontex agenda are now two, the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the border between Greece/Bulgaria and Turkey. In the latter thousands of immigrants are kept at the gate, ready to ‘invade’ Europe. Because this is the way in which these people get treated by both the EU and Turkey, the former paying to keep the immigrants within Turkish borders, the latter using these people living in abominable conditions, as a bullet in a loaded chamber, ready to be banged. Again, objects, it is what our leaders are dealing with, when humans are standing in the cold, dirty and malodourous refugee camps waiting for the higher verdict: “you can, you cannot enter”. Giorgia Linardi, spokesperson in Italy for the NGO Sea-Watch, interviewed by Ilaria Bonaccorsi for the quarterly journal Ossigeno, compares the system envisaged by the new Pact on Migration and Asylum proposed by the EU Commission to ‘Migrazon’, to emphasize the way in which immigrants are treated by the European decision-making bodies.
According to Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), an independent Network of NGOs and associations predominantly monitoring the Balkan regions and Greece, the number of push-back testimonies has dramatically increased in the last couple of years. In September 2020 alone, BVMN gathered 1,250 testimonies of people getting pushed back to either Turkey or Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2020, considering even higher figures for the previous years, 37% of the people trying to enter the EU clearly exposed their intention to ask for asylum. Yet, they were pushed back, against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 14), which states that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries. On top of this infringement, we could mention the 54% of pushbacks in which minors were involved, here breaching (as one of many) the Communication on the protection of children in migration adopted in 2017 by the Commission. “It is fundamental to ensure that any child needing protection receives it and that, regardless of their immigration status, citizenship or background, all children are treated as children first and foremost.” I read on the official website of the European Union. Signing treaties or agreements, ‘constitutionalizing’ the protection of certain rights seems to me a brilliant costume for a rotten and corrupted body. Europe has some respectful progressive targets, through which (EU citizens) envisage a healthier and more sustainable future; yet, we forget to pursue them nor act accordingly.
Accountability, one of the major pillars on which democracies can sustain and thrive. It is upon this principle that the representation process form and for this to function well we, EU citizens, have to keep the EU administrative bodies, elected or chosen to represent the people, accountable for their decisions and actions. Moreover, as Frontex is acting as the European Border Control agency, whose duty was granted by the Commission, it cannot break EU Treaties nor fundamental human rights under the EU name. Making this problem worse, it is the misleading separation of duties between the Member States’ border agents and the Frontex agents, which is still puzzling their job on the field and the legal proceeding following a potential breach of law. Moreover, often times migrants get treated with violent actions, such as beating (with batons/hands/other) (71.7%), theft of personal belongings (58.6%) and destruction of personal belongings (39.6%) to mention the first three types of violence reported in the BVMN testimonies. Who is responsible for these actions? EU administrative bodies, for letting the several EU agencies act with no restraints? Frontex, for the immoral training provided to the agents, forgetting to share with them the rules of the game (laws and EU treaties)? Or perhaps Member States’ border agents and police; indeed, many immigrants pushed back to Bosnia Herzegovina report that ‘Croatian police’ was responsible for their pushbacks and bruises on their bodies.
With the introduction of the new Frontex uniform (January 2021), we hope the European Union will be able to clearly distinguish between the duties of Frontex and the single MSs. For a greater accountability towards the agency and the required responsibility by the single agents. This European agency is of paramount importance for the stability of the union. For peaceful hard border relationships with countries with direct connection such as Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina. And for peaceful and death-free soft border areas like the Mediterranean Sea, where thousands of African Immigrants try, on a daily basis, to cross the sea to reach Europe. We need an organized agency, with clear objectives and well-trained agents, both physically and ‘legally’. With the latter I mean the necessary knowledge of the major values on which Europe stands upon, and the basic human rights we all enjoy.
We cannot forget what these people go through in their home countries, as we cannot deny the encountered struggle in taking the tough choice of saying goodbye to home, family and friends. Either living a life with a dead future or trying a deadly escape for a promising future. This is the choice faced. But the harsh and fatal (for some) journey is not enough, because once the European border of freedom is at sight, Frontex or national border agents, supposed to ensure freedom and security , take the stand. Exporting them like goods, treating them like boxes. Four Members of the European Parliament, Brando Benifei, Pietro Bartolo, Alessandra Moretti e Pierfrancesco Majorino, on this fourth week of January, went witness what is happening at the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and the crucial conditions on which refugees are living in the tent camps of Lipia. Their daily reports, even mysteriously blocked before the actual border by the Croatian police, highlighted what is already known. Unsustainable living conditions, worsened by a snowstorm on the day of the MEPs visit. Europe cannot turn its head and we, as European citizens, have to keep those responsible for borders’ safety accountable for their actions. Because above all, it is human beings like us, who the Frontex agents are dealing with.
Cover picture: “FRONTEX member on the first joint patrol with the Greek police on Greco-Turkish border in Kastania by Rock Cohen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0”.