‘EU must protect rights of deported migrants’

The EU border control agency Frontex must do more to protect the rights of thousands of deported migrants, the EU ombudsman said on Wednesday amid a surge of people landing on Europe's southern shores.

'EU must protect rights of deported migrants'
One of six makeshift boats filled with migrants spotted by an Italian Navy ship near Lampedusa, on February 5th, 2014. Photo: Italian Navy/AFP

Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly urged Frontex to improve how it restrains deportees, to ensure timely medical examinations, and to better protect disabled people as well as women and children.

She called on Frontex to ensure that families with children and pregnant women are seated separately from other deportees.

"Everything has to be done to ensure respect for the human dignity of the individuals being returned," O'Reilly said in a statement.

She remains "unhappy with the refusal of Frontex to establish its own complaints mechanism."

Working with the 28 member states, Frontex sent back to their home countries 13,000 people aboard 267 flights between 2006 and 2015, according to the ombudsman's office.

But it said that "to date, three critical situations have been reported, including in relation to the use of force."

Her office said part of the problem was that member states had different rules on the use of restraint.

"We are all shocked by the tragedies of those thousands who have lost their lives in their attempt to cross the Mediterranean," O'Reilly said.

The European Commission, the EU executive, is due on May 13th to present a comprehensive migration policy after the worst migrant shipwreck occurred in the Mediterranean last month with the drownings of 750 people.

It will go before EU heads of government and heads of state at their June 25th-26th summit.


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.