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

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

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

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 aircraft: Below the radar against international law

For three years, Frontex has been chartering small aircraft for the surveillance of the EU’s external borders. First Italy was thus supported, then Croatia followed. Frontex keeps the planes details secret, and the companies also switch off the transponders for position display during operations.

The European Commission does not want to make public which private surveillance planes Frontex uses in the Mediterranean. In the non-public answer to a parliamentary question, the EU border agency writes that the information on the aircraft is „commercially confidential“ as it contains „personal data and sensitive operational information“.

Frontex offers EU member states the option of monitoring their external borders using aircraft. For this „Frontex Aerial Surveillance Service“ (FASS), Frontex charters twin-engined airplanes from European companies. Italy first made use of the service in 2017, followed a year later by Croatia. In 2018, Frontex carried out at least 1,800 flight hours under the FASS, no figures are yet available for 2019. „Frontex aircraft: Below the radar against international law“ weiterlesen

Does Frontex arrange illegal push backs?

The EU Border Agency’s air surveillance could have triggered unlawful deportations at external borders. Such operations took place off Libya and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

For two years now, the Frontex Border Agency has been offering EU Member States the possibility of airborne monitoring of their external borders. The flights of this „Multipurpose Aerial Surveillance“ (MAS) are part of the surveillance system EUROSUR, with which Frontex monitors all external borders of the European Union and its „pre-frontier area“. EUROSUR provides so called Fusion Services, including satellite reconnaissance and drone flights.

Frontex installed the manned air surveillance service in the summer of 2017. The agency therefore commissioned a charter company in an operating agreement to fly a twin-engine aircraft of the type „Diamond DA-42“ . Their recorded video data will be transmitted in real time to the Frontex headquarters in Warsaw. Several national EUROSUR contact points, including in Spain, Portugal and Italy, can also receive the live images. „Does Frontex arrange illegal push backs?“ weiterlesen