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Paradox of EU Foreign Policy: Externalization and Refugee Crisis

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Georgia Katsigiannis

Section Editor for International Law



Introduction

The European Union’s (EU) external policy has always been, and perhaps always will be, an ‘oxymoron’. It’s tragic flaw - or otherwise ‘hamartia’, if we compare the EU to the likes of a hero - seems to be its struggle in striking the perfect balance between both ‘inclusion’ and ‘security’. In the face of immigration and border control, the EU’s purported commitment to the maintenance of human rights and protection of individuals is largely challenged.


Indeed, recent developments in the Aegean have once again brought this issue back into the limelight. Two preliminary actions were recently filed against Frontex - the official European Border and Coast Guard Agency - by human rights lawyers at both Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) and Front-Lex.[1]


The aforementioned actions formally accuse Frontex of committing multiple breaches of EU and international law and request that it immediately cease its activities in the Aegean Sea.


The executive director of the pertinent agency, namely Fabrice Leggeri, has a 2-month timeframe to respond before the case is taken to the European Court of Justice.[2]


Frontex involvement in illegal ‘pushbacks’

The preliminary action accuses Frontex of failing to report collective expulsions of refugees carried out by Greece at sea, additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the agency is also accused of directly participating in Greece’s unlawful ‘push-back’ policy.[3]


As defined by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights:


Push-backs are a set of state measures by which refugees and migrants are forced back over a border – generally immediately after they crossed it – without consideration of their individual circumstances and without any possibility to apply for asylum or to put forward arguments against the measures taken.[4]


The practice of “push-back” breaches numerous EU and international laws, such as the principle of non-refoulement enshrined in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It follows from the principle of non-refoulement that a country is to refrain from returning or sending back people to a country where their safety and life may be at risk.


Mounting evidence has shown that Frontex has been complicit in covering up Greece’s illegal push-back activities. One source claims that he ,along with his crew, was discouraged by Frontex agents from reporting that they had seen the Greek Authorities expelling a boatload of migrants outside Greek waters.[5]


Other accounts of Frontex actively inciting and participating in Greece’s ‘push-back’ policy have also been cited. A video dated June 8, 2020 and provided for by the Turkish Coast Guard, showed a Frontex vessel physically blocking a raft loaded with refugees.[6]


Such incidents have aroused extensive suspicion and criticism of not only the EU border agency, but of the EU holistically.


As stipulated by migration expert Gerald Knaus, “we are seeing an erosion of the rule of law at the E.U. borders which is willful…this is deeply worrying because it is eroding the refugee convention on the continent on which it was created.” [7]


Militarization of Spain’s external border orders at Melilla and Ceuta

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the EU has failed to adequately deal with aggressive state policy towards refugees.


The EU has continuously endorsed the militarization of Spain borders at both Melilla and Ceuta - two Spanish enclaves located at the northern shore of Morocco and thus one of the EU’s only physical land borders with Africa.[8] In addition to the physical barriers placed to keep out refugees seeking to enter the EU, Spain has also made it very difficult for refugees to reach the border.


Numerous accounts of migrants being attacked at the border by Moroccan authorities have been cited. Although it may be argued that these attacks fall outside of Spain’s jurisdiction, findings by Mr. Boček show that Spain was actively cooperating and encouraging the actions of Moroccan authorities by i.e. using the CCTV cameras to notify Moroccan authorities of any movements on their side of the fence. [9]


Conclusion

Whether it be EU agencies breaching EU and international law, or EU member states themselves, the EU has displayed a reluctance to prioritize the protection of refugees over its internal socio-economic stability and security. This is deeply worrying.


We must remember that ignorance has real life implications - this is more than a question of formality or politics - it is a question of respect for human rights, freedom, democracy, equality, and principally, human dignity.



 

[1] State Watch, ‘EU: Legal actions pile up against Frontex for involvement in rights violations’ (State Watch, 23rd February 2021) <https://www.statewatch.org/news/2021/february/eu-legal-actions-pile-up-against-frontex-for-involvement-in-rights-violations/> accessed 25th February 2021. [2] Renata Brito, ‘Lawyers give EU agency notice over Greece migrant pushbacks’ (ABC News, 16th February 2021) <https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/lawyers-give-eu-agency-notice-greece-migrant-pushbacks-75924208> accessed 26th February 2021. [3] Ibid [4] ECHR, ‘Push-Back’ <https://www.ecchr.eu/en/glossary/push-back/> accessed 26th February 2021. [5] Matina Stevis-Gridneff, ‘E.U. Border Agency Accused of Covering Up Migrant Pushback in Greece’ (NYT, 16th February 2021) <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/26/world/europe/frontex-migrants-pushback-greece.html%20accessed%2026tgh%20fEBRARY%202021> accessed 26th February 2021. [6] Renata Brito, ‘Lawyers give EU agency notice over Greece migrant pushbacks’ (ABC News, 16th February 2021) https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/lawyers-give-eu-agency-notice-greece-migrant-pushbacks-75924208 accessed 26th February 2021. [7] Matina Stevis-Gridneff, ‘E.U. Border Agency Accused of Covering Up Migrant Pushback in Greece’ (NYT, 16th February 2021) <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/26/world/europe/frontex-migrants-pushback-greece.html%20accessed%2026tgh%20fEBRARY%202021> accessed 26th February 2021. [8] BBC, ‘Ceuta, Melilla profile’ (BBC, 14th December 2018) <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14114627> accessed 26th February 2021. [9] CASE OF N.D. AND N.T. v. SPAIN. (Applications nos. 8675/15 and 8697/15)

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