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

Status agreement with Senegal: Frontex might operate in Africa for the first time

The border agency in Warsaw could deploy drones, vessels and personnel. It would be the first mission in a country that does not directly border the EU. Mauretania might be next.

As a „priority third state“ in West Africa, Senegal has long been a partner for migration-related security cooperation with the EU. The government in Dakar is one of the addressees of the „North Africa Operational Partnership“; it also receives technical equipment and advice for border police upgrading from EU development aid funds. Now Brussels is pushing for a Frontex mission in Senegal. To this end, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen travelled personally to the capital Dakar last week. She was accompanied by the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, who said that a contract with Senegal might be finalised until summer. For the matter, Johansson met with Senegal’s armed-forces minister and foreign minister.

For operations outside the EU, Frontex needs a so-called status agreement with the country concerned. It regulates, for example, the use of coercive police measures, the deployment of weapons or immunity from criminal and civil prosecution. The Commission will be entrusted with the negotiations for such an agreement with Senegal after the Council has given the mandate. The basis would be a „model status agreement“ drafted by the Commission on the basis of Frontex missions in the Western Balkans. Frontex launched its first mission in a third country in 2019 in Albania, followed by Montenegro in 2020 and Serbia in 2021. „Status agreement with Senegal: Frontex might operate in Africa for the first time“ weiterlesen

EU drones for people in distress: Dropping life rafts for pullbacks?

For the first time, drones are flying on behalf of an EU agency with rescue equipment on board. On the high seas, the actually useful technology could encourage illegal refoulements to countries like Libya. Perhaps the new function will only be used for minor maritime emergencies in European waters.

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has awarded a new €30 million contract for drone services. It has gone to the Portuguese company Tekever, which is flying an „AR5“ for EMSA since 2016. Reconnaissance missions of this fixed-wing drone are carried out for coast guards of the Schengen member states, that have to submit a corresponding request to the agency for this purpose. According to the tender, the EMSA drones are also to monitor the Mediterranean Sea within the framework of missions of the border agency Frontex.

Tekever equips the „AR5“ with radars, day and night cameras as well as receivers for signals from ships or emergency systems. They can stay in the air for more than 12 hours. In Portugal, Spain, France and Italy, among others, the „AR5s“ have completed more than 1,200 flight hours in almost 250 missions, including surveillance and safety at sea, detecting pollution or combating illegal fishing. „EU drones for people in distress: Dropping life rafts for pullbacks?“ 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

Drones watching Fortress Europe

The market for military long-endurance drones is dominated by two companies from Israel and one from the USA. Their products are now flying missions to monitor the Mediterranean Sea.

The Israeli company Elbit has been commissioned by the European Union to monitor the Mediterranean Sea. The company, which specializes in defence and surveillance technology, announced this at the beginning of November. For two years unarmed drones of the type „Hermes 900“ are to be launched from Portugal for reconnaissance missions. The flights will probably take place in the western Mediterranean around the Strait of Gibraltar. Responsible is the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), which announced such plans two years ago. Last summer, EMSA tested two different drones in a pilot project. With their long endurance, they also belonged to the so-called MALE class, but are considerably smaller than the „Hermes 900“. „Drones watching Fortress Europe“ weiterlesen

EU researches drone swarms for maritime surveillance

With the support of the EU, arms companies want to try out how 20 different drones can be networked in the air and at sea. Tests will take place in the Mediterranean Sea and the Baltic Sea. In two years „Ocean2020“ should deliver first results.

The European Union is funding a research project on the integration of drones and unmanned submarines into fleet units. According to the EU Commission, the „Ocean2020“ project will be used for „maritime surveillance and interdiction missions at sea“ and other military purposes. The information gathered on the swarms of drones provided the „commanders“ with a „comprehensive picture“ of developing situations, together with findings from other systems. The military project „Ocean2020“ is financed by the European Defence Fund, for which the EU Commission has approved 35 million euros. First results should be available in 2020. „EU researches drone swarms for maritime surveillance“ weiterlesen

The contested Mediterranean

Private rescue organizations are put on the chain. In the middle of the standoff about the ship „Aquarius“ Frontex starts the surveillance with drones and wants to give the coordinates of refugee boats to Libya.

The Libyan coastguard becomes the doorkeeper of the European Union. The body will receive intelligence data from Frontex to stop boats with refugees in coastal waters if possible. The information could come from long-range drones with which the Border Agency has been monitoring the Mediterranean since Thursday. Initially, this is a pilot project for the use of two military drones from Italy and Israel; regular operations could start from 2019. At least this is what it says in an earlier draft of the work programme for EU satellite surveillance. „The contested Mediterranean“ weiterlesen

The European Border Intelligence Service

With EUROSUR, the EU Commission has a powerful border surveillance system at its disposal. It brings together reconnaissance data from aircraft, drones and soon also aerostatic balloons. Based on the images, a Frontex unit then decides on further measures in the „pre-frontier area“.

The EU border agency Frontex has launched a series of new surveillance methods in the Mediterranean. This was written by EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in response to several questions from MEP Sabine Lösing. The capabilities are part of the EUROSUR border surveillance system launched by the European Union five years ago. It links the Frontex headquarters in Warsaw with the border authorities of the 28 Member States. Through their national coordination centres, Frontex is informed of all important incidents at the external borders of the European Union. According to the latest figures, around 148,000 irregular migration incidents have been reported since EUROSUR was set up, and around 33,000 have concerned organised crime. „The European Border Intelligence Service“ weiterlesen

Deadly Incident on the Mediterranean Sea: Rescue Organisation Accuses Libyan Coast Guard

The private rescue organisation Sea Watch e.V. is pressing charges against the Libyan coast guard because of an attack during a rescue operation on the Mediterranean Sea. According to the organisation 30 refugees died after their dinghy was damaged by a patrol boat on 21 October 2016. The rescue team rates this incident as an attack on maritime transport.

The coast guard’s patrol boat with the registration mark ‚267‘ interfered with the rescue operation of the ‚Sea-Watch 2‘, which was instructed by the sea rescue control centre in Rome. Pictures of the professional photographer Christan Ditsch, who was on board, show the coast guard pushing between a speed boat of the ‚Sea-Watch 2‘ and the dinghy. The crew was prevented from provideing the refugees with life jackets. A person in uniform then came on board of the dinghy and started hitting the passengers. According to the Sea Watch organisation he tried to take away the outboard engine. „Deadly Incident on the Mediterranean Sea: Rescue Organisation Accuses Libyan Coast Guard“ weiterlesen