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at the borders of Europe, repressions which no longer say their name

“In the European Union, the death penalty no longer exists. The only way to condemn someone to death is to send him back to where he is in danger. » Giorgos Kosmopoulos, campaign manager at Amnesty International, is bitter. If criticism rains down again on the European agency Frontex after confirmations, on July 28, as to the complicity of the organization in illegal deportations of migrants in Greece, points to him elsewhere: “Repressions make up politics de facto many states trying to legalize this practice. » An orientation confirmed by the evolutions of the migration pact prepared by the European Commission, and which complicates the work of NGOs.

The logic is simple. Constrained by the Geneva Convention (1951), States cannot return individuals to a country in which their life would be threatened. Aware of the legal and moral risks associated with so-called “pushback” – the summary returns of migrants to the last country from which they attempt to enter Europe, without having access to international protection – European states have sought to “give more and more responsibility to third countries to avoid accusations of refoulement”, explains Matthieu Tardis, researcher at the French Institute of International Relations.

Instrumentalization of maritime law

Each zone has its own mechanisms. In 2018, the legal competence to operate rescues in the central Mediterranean, the deadliest maritime route in the world, is transferred from the Italians to the Libyans. Sophie Beau, founder and president of SOS Méditerranée, denounces “a paradox and instrumentalization of maritime law”since now, when the Libyan coast guard intercepts boats and sends them back to “Libyan Hell” that they tried to flee, “they meet their obligation to provide assistance”. Furthermore, “the Libyan coordination communicates little about what they observe at sea”.

As a result, their rescue boat is patrolling blind, as the number of departures is on the rise and the death rate at sea has increased by 50% in 2021. On Wednesday August 3, NGOs operating rescue boats in Méditerranée (SOS Méditerranée, Médecins sans frontières and Sea-Watch) have called on the European Union to resume its search and rescue activities to help them respond to the influx of migrants during the summer.

On the border between Spain and Morocco, the practices of “hot” refoulement, during which migrants who entered illegally are sent back without their asylum applications being registered, have been legitimized by a decision of the European Court of human rights in 2020, believing that migrants had other possibilities to apply for asylum or a visa. A decision ” Aboveground “ for the researcher Matthieu Tardis, who, here again, complicates the task of NGOs. “During these removals, migrants’ phones may be confiscated, which poses problems in communication and collecting evidence to present to the Court”, for legal action, explains Elena Bizzi of the NGO EuroMed Rights.

“Expedited procedure”

More recently, the Polish decision to prohibit access to the border area with Belarus to journalists and NGOs, where border guards have been ordered to push migrants back into Belarusian territory, is also similar, for Giorgos Kosmopoulos, to this bypass mechanism allowing de facto repressions”.

The migration pact, announced in 2020 and still under study, does not seem to break with this dynamic. In June, the European Council approved a mandate to negotiate with Parliament on a new screening regulation to screen third-country nationals arriving irregularly at the external borders of a Member State. A “expedited procedure”, details researcher Matthieu Tardis, who worries defenders of migrant rights.

To avoid abuses, an independent control mechanism for monitoring fundamental rights is provided for in the proposed regulation. However, laments Elena Bizzi of EuroMed, “the initial mention allowing NGOs and civil society to access this mechanism has been removed”.

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Frontex accused of covering up illegal pushbacks

In February, a confidential report by the European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf), submitted to the European Commission, accused the former management of Frontex – the European Border and Coast Guard Agency – of having covered in Greece’s illegal pushbacks of migrants. Frontex is said to have even co-financed the boats involved in these “push back”. These revelations partly caused the resignation, in April, of the former director, Fabrice Leggeri. While the question of the publication of the document remains pending, several newspapers were able to consult it and reveal its content, Thursday, July 28.

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