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Graffiti on a wall reads 'FUCK FRONTEX'

Frontex: Public relations not people

Since 2016, Frontex has become the fastest growing EU agency, with a budget of close to €1 billion, and 11,000 employees. Make no mistake about its priorities: dissuasion, detention and deportation, rather than the assistance and protection of people.

Hans Leitjens, successor to Fabrice Leggeri as head of Frontex — who resigned last year over the cover-up of illegal pushbacks from Greece to Turkey — admitted that he “cannot assure” that pushbacks are not occurring in the EU (via Info Migrants). Moreover, he claims to seek to introduce a ‘transparency culture’ to the agency:


In an interview with Politico, he stated that:

“The real game changer [is] being more transparent.”

So, how does that explain Frontex’s collaboration with Greek authorities as they build and expand new CCACs (Closed Controlled Access Centres) — built in rural locations away from the public eye? How does that explain Frontex’s response to Freedom of Information (FOI) inquiries?

We’ve seen no evidence of change yet:

Pushbacks: What’s the state of Europe’s borders?

Let’s just return to Leitjens use of language, as quoted in an Info Migrants article:

“However, Leijtens also stated that he “cannot assure” that practices like pushbacks of migrants are not taking place in the EU: “I can create conditions where, first of all, that we know about in the moment they happen, that we try to be there to prevent them from happening. We try to educate our people,” he said.”

The phrase “cannot assure” is absurd — a piece of political PR that seeks to portray pushbacks as occasional possibilities, unfortunate incidents. They are — in reality — frequent, violent and illegal. So Frontex will ‘try’ to educate their people — is that good enough?

Frontex is Europe’s border agency. If there is one thing that is assured on Europe’s borders, it is pushbacks.

There are an estimated 600 pushbacks every day on Europe’s borders.

We recently reported on systematic pushbacks on the Italian-French border, and Belgian NGO 11.11.11 has recorded an estimated 225,533 pushbacks since 2022.

Public relations first, not people

Frontex has announced that it expects a ‘record’ increase in the number of people irregularly crossing into Europe. They report that climate change and poverty — rather than conflict — are the key causes, and that “organised crime groups are taking advantage of political volatility”.

What about the lack of options for ‘regular’ migration, the lack of legal and safe routes, we ask?

The EU will formally resettle, through ‘legal’ routes (via the UN), only 17,000 people in 2023. There are 2 million people awaiting resettlement (EU Observer).

So, in this new-look Frontex headed by Leijtens, its clear where the priorities lie: PR, not people.

In spite of increased border controls, and a decrease in the irregular movement of people via the Eastern Mediterranean, Poland and the Balkans, net movement to the EU is rising significantly.

  • Compared to this time last year, there has been a 300% increase in the number of people seeking to reach Europe via Northern Africa.
  • There has been a 1100% growth in the number of people departing from Tunisia.

As the EU and Frontex continually externalise human rights abuses (last week Italian PM Meloni was in Libya), Frontex is seemingly trying to improve nothing but its image. In 2022, the EU-funded Libyan coast guard intercepted 23,600 people, forcibly returning them to Libya.

As an MSF report from a few days ago writes:

“Today, people who survive the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing or the mountains and forests of Europe only do so to be subjected to undignified treatment when they reach Europe.
Across Europe, we’ve seen the normalisation of violence at its borders. On top of deaths at sea and violent pushbacks, we’ve heard reports of children locked up in shipping containers and teargassed in Hungary, before being pushed back to Serbia. It’s inhumane.”

Buha Collette, MSF’s Operations Team Leader for Europe

The EU is actively eroding the asylum system, failing to give meaningful protection to those seeking safety. Frontex is at the heart of this.

See StateWatch’s recent report for more on this.

This article first appeared in Are You Syrious?

Image: Alexander Hauk / HAUK MEDIEN ARCHIV / / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

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