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Who Dares Question the EU?

By Amelia Casey-Rerhaye, BA Arabic

Since 2020, EU nations have used illegal operations to push back 40,000 asylum seekers in the Mediterranean. An investigation by the Guardian linked these actions to the deaths of over 2,000 refugees.

I would like to introduce you to Front-LEX, an organisation dedicated to holding the EU and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to account for their reported involvement in illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers on EU external borders.

On a warm May evening, I  met a group of academics at a terrace – in the small village of Fiesole – overlooking the timeless city of Florence. They were headed by Omer Shatz, the director of the legal department of the organisation Front-LEX.  Front-LEX is a group that is single-handedly challenging the infamous Frontex and individual MEPs for their abuse of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. 

These are the men and women on the right side of history

Immediately, I was captivated by the group as they explained the goals of their endeavours. Every guest at that table understood the enormity of what Shatz was doing. The only thought running through my mind was that these are the men and women on the right side of history

Almost a year on, we’re on the precipice of a tribunal brought by Front-LEX at the European Court of Justice, accusing Frontex of human rights violations in the Aegean Sea Region (per Article 265 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), on behalf of two asylum seekers. The refugees sought out asylum in Lesbos before being ‘violently rounded up, assaulted, robbed, abducted, detained, forcibly transferred back to seas, collectively expelled, and ultimately abandoned on rafts with no means of navigation, food or water.’

A second case has already been accepted by the courts, accusing the EU and Frontex of being responsible for the deaths of over 2,000 Libyan refugees in the central Mediterranean. 

The process began back in 2020, with a Communication sent to the Executive Director of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, demanding the suspension or termination of all ‘operations in the Aegean in view of serious and persistent human rights violations’ (Front-LEX, 2020). With the deadline for a response set at 2 months, Front-LEX sat back and waited for a reply that never came. 

Front-LEX is focusing on the injustice and lack of accountability that runs rampant in Frontex. In the official announcement of the tribunal on the Front-LEX website Shatz quotes: ‘To date, the Court has never reviewed the conduct of Frontex nor provided for its countless victims. We trust the Court to hear the victims, to see what everyone sees, to hold the EU border agency to account, and restore the Rule of Law over EL lands and Seas.’ 

Frontex has been condemned by multiple other human rights groups, as well as a report produced by a cross-party group of eight MEPs.This all points out the full impunity granted to Leggeri, and the imbalance of checks imposed on the leader. With an unprecedented 63 workers in his private cabinet office, an investigation completed by the Guardian revealed that according to MEPs, the recruitment of two more Executive Directors was delayed by Leggeri, despite the demands of EU regulations. A curious contrast between work efficacy and number of workers, made more curious by the number of testimonies and reports of abuse and lack of internal regulation that have gone unresponded to by Frontex.

Recently, the European Commission set an aim to give Frontex more workers and equipment, including increasing operational armed staff to 10,000 by 2027 – an ‘army’ as Shatz described them in a Roundtable interview. Frontex is a direct result of the EU’s border policies, Jane Kilpatrick, a researcher for Statewatch also present during the interview, explained. The organisation was never created with ‘good intentions’ but was always a product of the EU member state’s desires to shut out migrants and ‘protect the border.’ But with over 2,000 refugee deaths in the Mediterranean over the Pandemic period alone, inevitably we question who indeed requires this ‘protection,’ and from what?

‘It is not a question of either-or,’ I recall Shatz saying to me; ‘the options are not between crimes against humanity or an uncontrolled influx of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers.’ This dangerous binary is what Front-LEX hopes to disintegrate with its legal actions. 
Front-LEX is adamant about protecting those who are in need; ‘through legal actions and public trials, we will seek to terminate EU migration policy, provide a remedy for its victims, and hold the culprits to account.’ The EU has long viewed refugees as an ‘external threat’ that must be fought against. In light of the recent events In Ukraine, it is important to question where this rhetoric was when Ukrainian refugees needed aid? The double standards concerning refugees have become too stark to be overlooked.

Photo Captions: ‘Syrian Refugees (Credit: FreedomHouse)

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