PICUM is no longer a member of the Frontex Consultative Forum, a body which is meant for non-governmental, international organisations and EU agencies to assist the European Border and Coast Agency (Frontex) by providing independent advice in fundamental rights matters.
In May 2020, PICUM wrote a private letter to Frontex’s Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri to raise our concerns in relation to both media reports on the agency’s involvement in human rights violations, as well as concerning the Forum’s working methods.
After seven years of membership in the Consultative Forum (between 2012 and 2019), and after long discussions internally, PICUM came to the conclusion that the Consultative Forum’s working methods did not allow for our meaningful participation. As a membership organisation representing more than 160 NGOs, our ability to provide inputs within the Forum was strongly limited by a very strict confidentiality clause, which entailed risks of criminal liability if we shared sensitive or non-public information with our members. While the Consultative Forum has had some key achievements in the past years, we regret that the modalities of the Forum consultation often failed to provide us with the space for meaningful inputs. In some cases, the Consultative Forum was not consulted on human rights related matters, or was consulted only after key decisions were taken. We were often not given enough time to review and process information from the agency in a meaningful way. And Frontex often failed to acknowledge or consider the Consultative Forum’s comments.
We have also been increasingly concerned by increasing reports of Frontex’s involvement in illegal pushbacks, the lack of adequate investigation and follow-up, as well as the insufficiency of mechanisms to ensure accountability. In recent months, evidence of Frontex involvement in illegal pushbacks has been growing from the central Mediterranean to the Balkans and Greece. Another independent report published in July 2020 finds that Frontex still lacks an effective system for monitoring, investigating, addressing, and preventing fundamental rights violations at Europe’s external borders.
The new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, which was proposed by the European Commission in September 2020, focuses on stepping up returns at all costs, while lowering fundamental safeguards for migrants, both adults and children. As the new EU Migration Pact foresees that Frontex will play a central role in stepping up returns, we fear that Frontex will engage in more activities which could lead to human rights violations at our borders in the coming years.
In July 2020, PICUM suddenly stopped receiving emails regarding the work of the Consultative Forum, and was removed from the list of Consultative Forum members on Frontex’s website. Frontex’s formal reply to our letter came in September 2020, and significantly fails to engage on the substance of our concerns, or mention why we were not receiving updates on the Consultative Forum work anymore.
We are concerned by the approach taken by Frontex to the role of civil society, including the recent harassment of two pro-transparency activists, and no longer see a role for our organisation in the Consultative Forum, from which we have formally withdrawn our membership. In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for truly humane European migration policies.
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