Equipment and training: Germany supports police build-up in Croatia

The Croatian police are known for their brutality and human rights violations at the country’s external borders, yet the German governments continues to train them. Number plate scanners, thermal imaging cameras and vehicles could be used for pushbacks in violation of international law.

Croatia has been an official member of the European Union since 2013. Until then, the Western Balkan state has received the usual financial „pre-accession aid“ to get fit for joining the Schengen area. However, the country is still denied full application of the Schengen acquis because of concerns raised by France and the Netherlands about the lack of rule of law. Therefore, internal border controls with neighbouring EU states Slovenia and Hungary continue.

However, one reason for the blockade of full Schengen application by individual EU members could also be Croatia’s function as a bulwark on the so-called „Balkan route“. Many refugees cross the country to reach wealthier EU states and apply for asylum there. Maintaining internal border controls with its northern neighbours could make this unwanted migration more difficult. „Equipment and training: Germany supports police build-up in Croatia“ weiterlesen

Terrorism, crime, migration: Nine EU agencies active because of Ukraine war

Most of the action is being taken by Europol and Frontex, which together have deployed around 280 staff to the region. Eurojust collects evidence against war crimes. The agency for the operation of large databases, on the other hand, plays a minor role.

At the end of March, the European Council called on its member states to better coordinate the reception of refugees from Ukraine. In addition to this ten-point plan and initial emergency financial aid of €668 million, the government in Kiev is being supported by individual member states in the security sector with military aid against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The EU is providing €2.5 billion for this purpose. On 25 July 2022, the European Investment Bank approved an additional €1.6 billion aid package for reconstruction.

Less well known is the support provided by EU Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) agencies, some of which are also carrying out extensive operations in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. As a „network of JHA agencies“, they published a joint statement with a „commitment to assist“ just two weeks after the war began. Some of them participate in the „Working Group on Integrated Political Crisis Response“, through which the EU aims to react on security incidents. A recently published overview describes the different activities. „Terrorism, crime, migration: Nine EU agencies active because of Ukraine war“ weiterlesen

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

New super-databases: EU agencies get experience from the USA

The EU wants to store fingerprints and facial images of over 400 million people from third countries in a single silo. US authorities already have such a system for around 275 million people. Both sides now want to cooperate more closely on this matter.

The European Union is currently merging all databases containing biometric data into a new system. Under the heading of „Interoperability“, this involves the Schengen Information System, the visa database, the fingerprint system for asylum seekers and a file on foreign convicts in terrorism proceedings.

In this way, a new super-database is being created, which will be supplemented next year by an Entry/Exit System (EES). After refugees and those requiring visas, all other travellers from third countries will then also have to hand over their biometric data when crossing the border into the EU. The entire new system could then contain fingerprints and facial images of over 400 million people from third countries, writes Sopra Steria, one of the contractors for the interoperability project. „New super-databases: EU agencies get experience from the USA“ weiterlesen

Sea rescue off Libya: Flight bans by Tripoli violate international law

The Scientific Services of the German Bundestag consider it against two international conventions that Libya prohibits a private rescue organisation from flying over high seas. The Berlin government agrees, but does not change the problem. Therefore, the International Civil Aviation Organisation cannot intervene either.

The ban on civilian flights for sea rescue in the central Mediterranean by Libyan authorities violates international law. This had already been confirmed by the Scientific Services of the Bundestag in an assessment at the end of June. Now the German government agrees with this assessment. The demand for permission to fly outside state territory is „contrary to the principle of freedom of overflight on the high seas“, according to the answer to a parliamentary question.

According to the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, the Libyan aviation authority oversees a Flight Information Region (FIR) that extends outside the twelve-mile zone over large parts of the southern Mediterranean. Before entering a FIR, pilots must register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and declare their destination. However, the central Mediterranean is considered uncontrolled airspace where no such declaration is required. Aviation authorities are not allowed to impose restrictions there, at best, they can only provide indications and information, the Bundestag assessment explains. „Sea rescue off Libya: Flight bans by Tripoli violate international law“ weiterlesen

Secret aerial surveillance: What does an hour’s flight with a Frontex drone cost?

With a new regulation, the EU border agency has set up its own aerial surveillance with aircraft. With the arrival of drones, migration control with the „Multipurpose Aerial Surveillance“ has become much more effective, but presumably also more expensive.

For more than a year, the EU border agency has stationed an Israeli Heron 1 long-range drone in Malta, and another drone now patrols the airspace around the Greek island of Crete. Frontex, however, does not want to disclose how much money a flight hour costs. Thus, it cannot be compared whether the drones are more expensive than manned aircraft on behalf of Frontex, as suspected.

With a new regulation, Frontex received permission in 2016 to purchase its own equipment. Immediately, the agency began leasing charter aircraft for aerial surveillance as part of a „Multipurpose Aerial Surveillance“ (MAS). This made Frontex independent of borrowing planes and helicopters, which previously had to be requested from EU Member States in the framework of Agency missions. „Secret aerial surveillance: What does an hour’s flight with a Frontex drone cost?“ weiterlesen

Following airplanes and drones: Frontex wants helicopters for border surveillance

The EU border agency wants to repeat a failed tender to procure rotary-wing aircraft. These could be used in areas where there is a lack of runways. The scenarios fit a Greek border river where many dead bodies wash up.

The European border agency Frontex is sticking to plans to add helicopters to its fleet of aircraft. A failed tender is to be made up this year, and procurement could then take place next year. This is what the new Frontex director Aija Kalnaja writes in her answer to a parliamentary question by MEP Özlem Demirel. Accordingly, the rotorcraft are to fly in operational areas where there is a lack of suitable landing sites for aircraft and drones.

Frontex had already targeted a three-million-euro framework contract for helicopter services across Europe two years ago. The helicopters were part of a tender for long- and medium-range flights with manned aircraft, on which Frontex planned to spend another €100 million. They were to be used in land and sea operations, Frontex wrote, „even if they are more oriented on the land domain.“ „Following airplanes and drones: Frontex wants helicopters for border surveillance“ weiterlesen

Secret border surveillance: Italy drastically restricts freedom of information

Italian media no longer receive information about their country’s cooperation with the Libyan coast guard. Whether many millions of euros for equipment have been wasted there can now hardly be clarified. It also makes the EU border agency Frontex more opaque.

The Italian government has drastically restricted the right of access to administrative documents. In the future, information on cross-border security cooperation is to be kept secret from the public. A corresponding decree restricting freedom of information was signed by Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese as early as mid-March 2022, reports the newspaper Altreconomia. The reason given is the threat to national security or defense.

Particularly affected is the intergovernmental „border and immigration management“ with neighboring countries. For example, cooperation agreements and technical agreements between the military and police will no longer be issued. Separately mentioned in the decree is information on „problems in border areas.“ „Secret border surveillance: Italy drastically restricts freedom of information“ weiterlesen

Frontex and Europol: EU agencies with surveillance program

After secret data collection on migrants, Frontex hires 250 new officers to profile travelers

Europol, the Hague-based EU police agency, is tasked with investigating criminals and preventing imminent crimes. Europol can coordinate investigations if they involve two or more EU member states and stores information in its own databases to do so. For several years, the border agency Frontex has also been collecting data on persons suspected of committing cross-border crimes and forwarding it to Europol. The medium „Balkan Insights,“ „Spiegel“ and other international press reported on this last week after a joint investigation. However, Frontex, which was once established in Warsaw to monitor and control borders, does not have a sufficient mandate for this. „Frontex and Europol: EU agencies with surveillance program“ weiterlesen

Maritime surveillance: Spy satellites in Frontex operation

Electronic intelligence from space has long been the business of intelligence agencies and the military. Miniaturized technology and Musk’s SpaceX company are now making this interesting for border agencies. Even radars from ships are to be scanned unnoticed by satellites.

To locate and track vessels, Frontex uses Automatic Identification System (AIS) data, which requires every major ship to regularly transmit its identity, respective location and destination to receiving equipment via VHF radio frequencies. In this way, the border agency aims to prevent, for example, unwanted smuggling of refugees or even drug smuggling into Europe. The information is enriched with images from optical or radar-based satellites in an „overall situation picture.“ Frontex uses an algorithm to determine from space data if a ship is behaving conspicuously.

The multilayered surveillance system reaches its limits when ships are „uncooperative“ and turn off their AIS transponders. Images from high-resolution optical satellites are also expensive and can only be used during the day and in good weather. Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite data can detect ships at all times, but their resolution is coarse. „Maritime surveillance: Spy satellites in Frontex operation“ weiterlesen