Near the end of April, the European Commission revealed plans to expand the mandate of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, or Frontex. The EU has been struggling with migrants who, upon having their applications for residence in the EU rejected, refuse to leave. Less than a third do so voluntarily after a decision to expel them is made.
European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson and European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas described the empowered Frontex as “the EU’s return agency” which will assist member states “in all stages of the voluntary return and reintegration process, including pre-return counselling, post-arrival support and monitoring the effectiveness of reintegration assistance”. The agency is to select an executive deputy director to oversee a new department responsible for this new dimension of Frontex operations.
Under the new EU strategy, however, the focus will still remain on increasing the rate of voluntary departures as these are significantly cheaper to oversee when compared to forced deportations. Therefore, besides empowering Frontex, the EU is also focusing on creating programs and common procedures which will improve the efficiency of rejected migrant processing.
As the EU struggled to address the migrant crisis, Frontex has already greatly grown in power with its budget tripling between 2015 and 2020. This has already proven controversial as the result of numerous issues arising within the agency. According to a recent investigation by the Guardian, attempts to push migrants entering Greek waters back into Turkish waters resulted in the death of 2,000 migrants. Other Frontex activities included “using illegal tactics ranging from assault to brutality during detention or transportation”. In this climate, some NGOs and politicians have criticized the latest European Commission decision but the criticisms were succinctly dismissed by Johansson and Schinas who declared confidence in the agency.
Frontex operations in Greek waters have also recently been troubled by Turkish activity. On 26-27 April, Turkish Coast Guard vessels were reported by the Greek media to have conducting aggressive maneuvers which endangered Frontex ships.