In a resolution 1932 (2013) adopted this week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has warned against “a dangerous mindset [that] still exists which views Frontex’ activities as being no more than those of member States, with responsibilities lying with individual member States and not with the Agency”.
The Assembly stressed the importance of ensuring that persons with international protection needs are identified during border and interception operations and are provided with appropriate assistance, including access to asylum, and that the rights of all persons returned under Frontex operations are guaranteed.
PACE called for the establishment of an effective system to monitor compliance with human rights obligations during Frontex’ operational activities. In particular, the Assembly specifies that an effective and independent monitoring system at all stages of joint return operations should be put in place. In addition, joint return operations should only be funded and carried out for EU member States that already have in place an effective system of monitoring forced returns at national level.
Regarding the future code of conduct of joint return operations, PACE insists that this should take the Council of Europe’s twenty guidelines on forced return fully into account and that the consequences of non-compliance with this code and the Frontex Code of Conduct should be clearly established.
PACE called on Frontex, the European Union and EU Member States to make use of the power to suspend or terminate joint operation in cases of serious or persistent breaches of fundamental rights or international protection obligations.
The Assembly also calls on Frontex to improve transparency and public communications regarding operations on the ground and their impact on human rights.
The report on Frontex’ human rights responsibilities was debated jointly with a report on the management of mixed migration and asylum challenges beyond the European Union’s eastern border. In the resolution adopted, the Assembly urged the EU and its Member States to increase support to their eastern neighbours and to refrain from returning third-country nationals when the readmitting countries cannot guarantee fundamental rights. Furthermore, readmission agreements should be revised to ensure access to the asylum procedure; contain suspension clauses in cases of persistent violations of human rights in the countries concerned; and provide for adequate monitoring of the application of the agreements and the situation of the persons following their return.
In addition, the Assembly calls on countries beyond the EU’s eastern borders to improve their capacity to deal with asylum claims and to limit the use of detention of irregular migrants and look for alternatives to detention, refrain from detaining children and ensuring the ability to challenge detention and access to other legal rights in detention including access to asylum.