top of page

What is the problem with Frontex and what can we do to change it?

A policeman wearing a bandage from Frontex

Frontex is the EU’s agency for border and coastal protection. It was founded in 2004 to protect both the EU borders and refugees and migrants that seek to cross them. On their website they state that their mission is to “ensure safe and well-functioning external borders,” that they follow “high ethical standards” and that they “care about people and believe in European values.” The organization is funded by the EU and the Schengen countries and their budget has been increasing every year. In 2021, EU and Schengen associated countries contributed 543.521.620€. At the moment, around 1000 people work at Frontex but the agency is planning to increase this number to 10.000 by 2027.

Over the past few years, Frontex has increasingly been at the center of international critique. This is because journalists at for example SPIEGEL, Lighthouse Reports and “Report Mainz” have reported that Frontex officers have been involved in illegal pushbacks of migrants at the EU external borders. Pushbacks are instances in which refugee boats have reached EU waters but instead of being rescued or guided towards a safe port, EU border patrols drag them back into international waters to abandon them there. This violates the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights and is therefore illegal.

Boat on the water, a Illegal pushback of another boat
Illegal pushback, Credits: Felix Weiss, Sea-Watch

According to the human rights organization Mare Liberum, 312 illegal pushbacks took place in 2020 in the Aegean alone during which EU authorities sent 9.798 people back often to countries that are provenly not safe for them. Frontex officers have witnessed or even participated in at least some of these illegal activities. A report shows that on the night between the April 18th and 19th 2020, a Frontex plane observed how Greek border patrols illegally dragged a refugee boat with around 30 people from Greek into Turkish waters.

Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri is legally obliged to report these crimes against humanity and abandon a mission if it involves human rights violations. However, he failed to do so. Because of these incidences, a team of lawyers has pledged to legally force Frontex to stay out of illegal missions in the Aegean and is prepared to bring them in front of the European Court of Justice. One of them, Omer Shatz, explained to mimycri why it has been possible for illegal pushbacks to happen on the EU borders despite the existence of international laws that regulate asylum:

“Human rights law concerns state responsibility, as opposed to individual responsibility. Victims are real persons but states are abstract entities. The behavior and in particular compliance of states with the human rights obligation is not affected by the sanction courts inflict in case of violations, as is the case with individuals. Instead, respecting the law hinges on, well, the extent States and more broadly the EU believe in it. It seems Europe ceased to genuinely adhere to the liberal ethos of the Rights of Men: the right of any human being, irrespective of legal status or nationality, to have rights.”

Afghans on a life raft after a pushback in the Aegean Sea
Afghans on a life raft after a pushback in the Aegean Sea, source:

What we can do to help change the situation

While this is a complex issue that ultimately needs to be solved by the EU and international bodies, there are still things that we can do to help.

First, we can inform/educate ourselves. Frontex is meant to operate in the shadows and it can already help to know what they are doing to keep them in check. For example, the book “Illegality Inc.” by Ruben Andersson gives an incredible insight into the hidden operations of Frontex. Pages like Mare Liberum and Pro Asyl that raise awareness about the situation of asylum seekers are also great sources to follow to stay up to date.

Second, we can make other people aware. While it is important to inform ourselves, we can also help informing others. You can post on social media, have conversations with friends and family, go to protests, etc. Frontex needs to know that they are being watched and that they cannot continue to be involved in human rights violations.

Third, we can contact Frontex directly. They need to know that people are aware of what’s happening in the Mediterranean Sea and hold themselves accountable. You can find the general contact information here. People who have been directly affected by Frontex’ actions or any person or party representing them can also send in a formal complaint here.

Fourth, we can put pressure on politicians to monitor and penalize these violations more affectively. It doesn’t take long to contact a deputy in the European Parliament and tell them about your concerns, but if enough people do it, they hopefully will not ignore the issues any longer. Find your deputy here (only for Germany) or contact the EU here.

Shatz emphasized that if we truly want to change this situation, we need to change the general narrative around migration. And this can only be achieved together:

“[We need a] change in paradigm, starting with education and politics. Instead of accepting populist presumptions, that migration is 'a problem' that needs to be 'managed' by discrimination, criminalization, rejection, deportation and ultimately extermination - to propose an alternative to chauvinism by creating a different set of values. Birds are migrating every season. No one seeks to manage them.”

The first opportunity to confront Frontex is already here! The German Council on Foreign Relations is organizing a talk under the title “The role of Frontex in European migration politics” (Talk will be in German). Frontex Director Leggeri will do a presentation and answer the audience’s questions afterwards.

When? May 5th, 08:00 - 09:30 AM Berlin Time

Who can join? Everyone!

Where? Online. Find the event description and registration link here.


bottom of page