Human rights violations in Malta: Frontex Fundamental Rights Officer criticises own air surveillance

An emergency at sea in May this year shows how Maltese authorities lets unseaworthy boats pass unrescued so that refugees are taken on board much later by neighbouring Italy or drown. Frontex’s acting Fundamental Rights Officer has clearer words for this than his predecessor.

Since 2017, the Warsaw-based European Union border agency is monitoring the migration route in the central Mediterranean Sea with specially leased planes. Meanwhile, the service is supported by two large drones from Malta and Crete. The deployment of the aircraft opens a backdoor for refoulement in violation of international law: Frontex takes over the aerial surveillance for the Tripoli coast guard, so that they take the discovered refugees back to Libya. This even happens regularly when boats are in Malta’s sea rescue zone.

Jonas Grimheden, the Fundamental Rights Officer at Frontex, has strong words for this practice. This is what it says in a „Serious Incident Report“ that the agency had to release in response to my Freedom of Information request. According to this, Frontex employees lack criteria for classifying when a boat must be rescued immediately by units in the vicinity. The border agency is therefore to start a „dialogue“ on definitions of vessels in distress with Malta, which is also criticised in the report for its inaction. „Human rights violations in Malta: Frontex Fundamental Rights Officer criticises own air surveillance“ weiterlesen

Mediterranean Sea: Frontex claims to have detected 13,000 refugees with drones

After in Malta, the EU border agency is now stationing a long-range drone on Crete. There is contradictory information on the surveillance technology on board.

According to its own figures, Frontex has detected at least 13,000 refugees in 300 cases with the help of long-range drones and reported them to the responsible coast guards. Since May last year, the EU border agency has stationed a Heron 1 from the Israeli arms company IAI in Malta for such missions. The drone is officially registered to the Maltese Air Force.

The contract for Frontex drones was awarded to the German branch of the Airbus Group in Bremen, which also flies four Heron 1s for the German armed forces in Mali. They are controlled from a mobile facility located at the international airport near the Maltese capital Valletta. Other Airbus technicians are responsible for maintenance and repairs there. „Mediterranean Sea: Frontex claims to have detected 13,000 refugees with drones“ weiterlesen

Frontex has air superiority

With its aerial surveillance, from space and soon possibly from the stratosphere, the EU border agency is becoming a quasi-secret service

Twice in the past six years, the EU has drastically expanded Frontex’s powers. In 2016, the agency was allowed to purchase its own equipment, and first began leasing its own aircraft. As a „Frontex Aerial Surveillance Service“ (FASS), they observe the central Mediterranean, the so-called Balkan route and the Aegean. Frontex is thus saying goodbye to the principle of always borrowing personnel and equipment for its missions from the member states.This gives the agency considerably more creative power with less control over its activities at the same time.

The FASS flights can be requested by any EU member state with an external border. The decision whether to deploy lies with Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri. Italy first made use of this in 2017, followed by the first deployment at a land border in Croatia in 2018. In the meantime, FASS aircraft are also flying in Montenegro, Greece and other countries. „Frontex has air superiority“ weiterlesen

Migration control: EU agency spends € 1.5 billion on virtual borders

The launch of the new Entry/Exit System is delayed to September 2023, the Commission says the contracted companies are to blame.

Between 2014 and 2020 alone, Frontex and eu-LISA agencies spent a total of €1.9 billion on contracts for border surveillance and control systems. This figure is provided by the British civil rights organisation Statewatch, which analysed tenders on the European procurement platform. The money went mainly to large corporations from the IT sector and to arms companies.

Around a quarter of the money was spent on Frontex. After the so-called „migration crisis“, the EU border agency began setting up its own air surveillance service in 2016. This flight service with charter aircraft was supplemented last year by contracts for two large drones in the central Mediterranean. In the current budget, around one-sixth of the agency’s annual budget goes towards leasing the manned and unmanned aircraft. „Migration control: EU agency spends € 1.5 billion on virtual borders“ weiterlesen

New unmanned capabilities: When will the EU use drones for practical sea rescue?

Two leading drone manufacturers report readiness to equip their aircraft with life rafts. These can be dropped with pinpoint accuracy over a maritime emergency. But perhaps this would also encourage violations of the Geneva Refugee Convention.

The Portuguese company Tekever can now equip its drone „AR5“ with life rafts for eight people. The new capability has already been tested in several trials over the Atlantic, the manufacturer now shows this in a video.

With the help of on-board computers, the system calculates the optimal drop point. The rescue device is to be placed at a sufficient distance from the emergency at sea so that those affected are not put at additional risk. „New unmanned capabilities: When will the EU use drones for practical sea rescue?“ weiterlesen

Frontex pays another €84 million for aerial surveillance

The border agency spends one-sixth of its budget on flights at the EU’s external borders. With the service, the Frontex director makes himself independent of the governments of the member states. A contract for helicopter operations does not materialise for the time being. In the meantime, however, Libya has ordered helicopters from Airbus.

Frontex has awarded two new contracts for aerial maritime surveillance. These are two of the original four tenders for medium-range and long-range flights. According to the European procurement portal, the contracts worth €53.6 million and €30.9 million were awarded to five charter companies from the Netherlands, the UK and Austria. All beneficiaries had previously provided flight services for Frontex. Several companies also fly for coastguards in other European countries, such as the Netherlands and the UK.

Frontex currently spends one-sixth of its budget this year on its „Aerial Surveillance Service“ (FASS). The EU border agency began setting it up in 2013. Initially, it was a pilot project with the British company Diamond Executive Aviation (DEA), which was followed by service contracts with a total of nine companies from 2017. It was based on the renewed Frontex Regulation of 2016, according to which the agency can procure, lease or rent its own equipment. This makes Frontex independent of the Member States, from which the agency usually has to request personnel and equipment for “ Joint Operations“. „Frontex pays another €84 million for aerial surveillance“ weiterlesen

Frontex closes surveillance gaps in the air and in space

High-flying drones are to reconnoitre the EU’s external borders from the stratosphere, a static zeppelin is already observing close to the ground. With interception systems in space, the EU border agency wants to locate and possibly tap satellite telephones in the Mediterranean. So far, the technology has only been installed in aircraft.

The European Union‘s border agency Frontex is expanding its „surveillance capability“ with high-flying platforms. In a call for tenders, systems are being sought for use in the stratosphere. At an altitude of 20 kilometres, they are to close the gap between the aircraft, drones and satellites already in use.

The systems sought include so-called high-altitude platforms (HAPS) or lighter-than-air (LTA) solutions, such as those currently being developed to series maturity by the European armament company Airbus with the glider „Zephyr“ or its French competitor Thales with the zeppelin-like „Stratobus“, which can last for months or even years. Suppliers of microsatellites, which can be launched into space extremely cheaply these days, can also apply.

The launch of HAPS has been driven by the EU Space Agency since 2017, and its market share at the time was estimated to be over €7 billion by 2024. Frontex could therefore be one of the first users of the new technology, as with the „Space Data Highway“. „Frontex closes surveillance gaps in the air and in space“ weiterlesen

Border drones (Part 1): Unmanned surveillance of the EU’s external borders by Frontex

Since 2009, the EU Border Agency Frontex has been hosting training events on drones and inviting manufacturers to regular demonstrations. There, border police from Schengen member states were presented market-available unmanned systems for the surveillance of land and maritime borders. The basis for this is the first Frontex Regulation, adopted in 2004, which contains the mandate to „follow up on the development of research relevant for the control and surveillance of external borders“. The agency’s remit therefore includes continuous exchange with „cross-sectorial partners“ in order to „transform operational requirements into innovative operational solutions“.

In the case of the introduction of these technologies, Frontex is to coordinate with European standardisation institutes as appropriate. In 2010, small drones were the initial focus in Finland. A year later, high-flying MALE-class aircraft were unveiled in the Greek port city of Aktio. Prior to this, Frontex had issued a call for the event to explore the integration of drones into the EU border surveillance system EUROSUR. Subsequently, aircraft such as the Israeli „Heron 1“, the American „Predator“, the French „Patroller“ as well as the „Euro Hawk“ (which at the time was in the procurement phase for the German Armed Forces as a spy drone) were presented in lectures. Some drones were demonstrated live; in the case of the Spanish offshoot of the French arms company Thales, the latter touted the suitability of its „Fulmar“ against irregular migration.

In its 2012 work programme, Frontex announced its intention to „identify more cost-efficient and operational effective solutions for aerial border surveillance in particular Unmanned Aircraft Systems“. Under the name „All Eyes“, the agency then wanted to identify cheap and effective solutions, including also so-called Optional Piloted Aerial Vehicles (OPV). Within nine months, an initial study on this was to be carried out, followed by „practical field tests and an evaluation“. The budget was 450,000 euros. „Border drones (Part 1): Unmanned surveillance of the EU’s external borders by Frontex“ weiterlesen

First test in Malta: Frontex drones approaching

A reconnaissance drone is to track down boats carrying refugees in the central Mediterranean Sea in the future, the main contractor is the Airbus Group. The range of the deployed „Heron 1“ also enables flights off the coasts of North Africa.

Frontex is apparently stationing its new drones in Malta. As the Times of Malta reports, the EU border agency carried out a first test flight there on Friday. The newspaper illustrates the report with photos of a „Heron 1“ on the runway of the international airport in Malta.

Frontex had tendered a contract for the procurement of large drones in 2019. The legal framework was the Frontex Regulation, renewed in 2016, which allows the agency to acquire or lease its own technical equipment, following a decision by the executive director. The vehicles, vessels, aircraft or surveillance equipment can then be used for joint operations, pilot projects or rapid interventions for border security purposes, according to Article 38. „First test in Malta: Frontex drones approaching“ weiterlesen

Artificial intelligence: Frontex improves its maritime surveillance

Frontex wants to use a new platform to automatically detect and assess „risks“ on the seas of the European Union. Suspected irregular activities are to be displayed in a constantly updated „threat map“ with the help of self-learning software.

The EU border agency has renewed a contract with Israeli company Windward for a „maritime analytics“ platform. It will put the application into regular operation. Frontex had initially procured a licence for around 800,000 Euros. For now 2.6 million Euros, the agency will receive access for four workstations. The contract can be extended three times for one year at a time.

Windward specialises in the digital aggregation and assessment of vessel tracking and maritime surveillance data. Investors in the company, which was founded in 2011, include former US CIA director David Petraeus and former CEO’s of Thomson Reuters and British Petroleum. The former chief of staff of the Israeli military, Gabi Ashkenazi, is considered one of the advisors. „Artificial intelligence: Frontex improves its maritime surveillance“ weiterlesen