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Rapid introduction of new Frontex powers: EU and Member States prefer to shut the door and return refugees than relocate them
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In 13 months (the year 2016 plus January 2017) EU Member States have "returned" 11,121 refugees but only relocated within the EU 8,123 refugees entering through Greece and Italy (the two main countries of entry) since September 2015.

A recent European Commission's report notes that the "operationalisation" of new powers given to Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard, EBCG) has been implemented in "record time".

See: Report on the operationalisation of the European Border and Coast Guard (COM 42-17, pdf)

The new Regulation came into force on 6 October 2016. The "Rapid Reaction Pools" became operational on 7 December 2016 and the "Return Pools" on 7 January 2017.

Currently more than 1,550 members of the EBCG are involved in regular joint operations assisted by 24 boats and vessels, six aircraft and helicopters, more than 80 patrol cars and 13 thermo-vision vehicles. 760 are deployed in Greece on the islands and the Greek-Turkish land borders, 600 in Italy, 130 in Bulgaria and 70 in the West Balkans. The "gaps" include the need for six "dog teams" in Greece and 32 "dog teams" in Italy.

The Rapid Reaction Pool

Established on 7 December 2016:

"The Rapid Reaction Pool is intended to be a standing corps of 1500 border guard officers and other relevant staff placed at the immediate disposal of the Agency enabling it to carry out rapid border interventions. Border guards from this pool shall be deployed from each Member State within five working days after the operational plan is agreed by the executive director and the host Member State. The pool is organised around 14 specialised profiles and it should include amongst others 467 border surveillance officers, 458 registrations and finger scanning experts, 97 advanced-level document officers and 137 nationality screening experts."

Support for "return"

Since 7 January 2017:

"three new pools of forced-return monitors, forced-return escorts and return specialists are available for operations. They can now be mobilised forming European Return Intervention Teams. Upon request from Member States, these teams can provide operational support to increase the capacities of Member States to return. 22 Member States have contributed to these pools, providing 395 of the 690 experts that are needed...

The Agency has rapidly scaled up its activities on return – in 2016, it organised a record number of 232 operations, returning 10,700 irregular migrants - a four-fold increase compared to 2015 when 3565 migrants were returned in 66 operations; since the entry into force of the Regulation until 12 January, the Agency organised 78 return operations – more than in the whole year 2015 – to return 3421 irregular migrants. The Agency should further expand its assistance by providing support with returns through commercial flights and developing intra-EU hubs dedicated to return operations."

More funds and staff are being devoted to "returns":

"significant increases in the resources made available to the Agency have enabled this up-scaling of its work on return. In both 2016 and 2017, EUR 66.5 million have been allocated to its return activities, up from EUR 9.5 million in 2015; 52 staff will be working on return-related activities in 2017, and this number is expected to reach 117 by 2020."

New complaints "mechanism" - just one complaint submitted

"On 6 October 2016, the Agency’s Executive Director, in consultation with the Fundamental Rights Officer, set up a complaints mechanism to monitor and ensure the respect for fundamental rights in the activities carried out by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. A complaint form has been made available on the Agency’s website in six languages (English, French, Arabic, Pashtu, Urdu, Tigrinya), nonetheless complaints may be submitted in any EU official languages. By mid-January 2017, only one complaint was submitted to the Agency."

The "complaints form" on the Frontex website is hard to find - but it is here.

"Model status agreements" with third countries

"In the past, however the Agency was not legally entitled to deploy its teams in the territory of third countries. This limitation proved particularly problematic during the 2015 with regards to addressing the migratory flows on the Western Balkan Route during the 2015. For the first time, the European Border and Coast Guard Regulation now provides for the possibility for the Agency to carry out actions with executive powers on the territory of neighbouring third countries subject to a prior agreement concluded by the European Union and the third country concerned...

On 25 January 2017, the Commission adopted recommendations to the Council to authorise the opening of negotiations with Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia."

EU Member States are keen to take part in these operations but cannot agree on a "solidarity" measure for the even relocation of refugees. Since September 2015 just 1,950 refugees of out a promised 34,953 have been relocated from Italy and only 6,213 out of 63,352 from Greece.

In 13 months (the year 2016 plus January 2017) EU Member States have "returned" 11,121 refugees but only relocated within the EU 8,123 refugees entering through Greece and Italy (the two main countries of entry) since September 2015.

Keep in touch: Statewatch Observatory: Refugee crisis in the Med and inside the EU: Daily news (updated through the day), commentaries and official documents
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