It is not enough to change the Director, Frontex must be abolished!

The EU and its member states must sanction Frontex’s illegal practices and put an end to impunity!

On 29 April 2022, the Executive Director of the European border and coast guard agency, Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri (in office since 2015), resigned.

Since October 2020 [1], Frontex has faced numerous accusations of complacency or complicity in push back operations in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Europe, but also of serious dysfunction and bad governance. So much so that numerous investigations have been carried out by the European institutions (European Parliament, European Ombudsman, EU Court of Auditors, European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF), and that Frontex’s budgetary discharge for the year 2020 was blocked by the European Parliament on 4 May 2022, a clear sign of mistrust [2]. The conclusions of the OLAF report [3], and the latest revelations of push backs, disguised as "departure prevention" in the Aegean Sea in Frontex reports [4], have undoubtedly accelerated the fall of its Director, who until now seemed untouchable.

But Leggeri was not fired, he resigned. Not because he assumes responsibility for the proven rights violations committed or covered up by Frontex at the borders [5], but because the role of the agency is taking a direction of which he disapproves. Its mandate and the political vision of the institutions have been "silently but effectively modified" over the last two years, and there is a clear contradiction between the mandate to control and protect European borders, which was given to it in 2015, and the respect of the rights of people trying to reach these borders, the two being incompatible. Therefore, he resigned because "he cannot stay to implement what is not the Agency’s mandate" [6]. In its communiqué of 29 April, the Frontex Management Board swept aside any dilemma by affirming on the contrary that "effective border control and the protection of fundamental rights are fully compatible" ... What civil society has been refuting, with supporting documents, for over ten years [7].

And in fact, with Leggeri out of the way, nothing changes. Neither the actual incompatibility of Frontex’s mandate and activities with the respect of fundamental rights, nor the structural impunity it enjoys. For it is not the responsibility of one (single) man, but that of a system on a European scale that has allowed for decades the multiplication of violations of the rights of exiled persons at the maritime and land borders of Europe with complete impunity.

For the mandate of Frontex and its activities, as well as the Union’s security and death-dealing anti-immigration policy, remain. Frontex will continue to "secure" Europe’s borders, with violence and disregard for people’s rights and lives [8], by carrying out collective deportation flights [9], by obstructing the right to asylum, by warning the Libyan pseudo-coastguards (whom it is also training) to come and intercept the boats of exiles [10]. It will continue to portray those wishing to join the EU as "threats" to be protected from. In short, Frontex will continue to impede mobility - in violation of international law [11] - and to force people to take risky and deadly routes, because that is its mandate, whatever the name of its Director.

And while civil society has not ceased for a decade to document and denounce these abuses, Frontex has never been sanctioned for its actions that violate rights. In 2014, Migreurop already mentioned pushbacks between Greece and Turkey, in the framework of Frontex’s Operation Poseidon, which were reported to the agency’s fundamental rights officer, without any follow-up [12]. In December 2020, its Director had already admitted before the European Parliament that the agency was carrying out "pre-departure operations", comparable to push backs [13]. Despite this, no official decision has ever been taken to stop the agency’s operations in this area, none of its agents has been implicated, and the responsibilities of its Director, who has never been sanctioned, have not been terminated, and who has now resigned.
When accusations can no longer be hidden and the illegal practices of Frontex can no longer be ignored or questioned, the only consequence would seem to be the resignation (not dismissal) of a Director, who will not be subject to any disciplinary or judicial sanction. In the face of mounting evidence, when the institutions of democratic control can no longer keep quiet, they are therefore only able to produce cosmetic changes.

Frontex has been strengthened with each mandate review (2011, 2016, 2019) despite internal ’incident reports’, NGO reports and media investigations, and is increasingly reluctant to be held accountable either to institutions or citizens [14]. Regardless of the Director, the agency has on too many occasions proved that it can flout European law with impunity in order to satisfy a security-oriented policy to fight immigration, which has shown that it cannot be respectful of rights.

By accepting Leggeri’s voluntary departure, the European institutions are indirectly making him responsible for the agency’s abuses, which is also a way of keeping them quiet and not questioning the very foundations of Frontex, while pretending to be taking things in hand and "cleaning up" a "damaged" entity. But the foundations on which Frontex is based have not changed one iota, and Frontex is beyond repair.

Replacing the Director will not change the mandate or the activities of Frontex. It is no longer a question of making cosmetic changes, but of finally abolishing Frontex in order to put an end to the violations of rights at the borders, which are perpetrated with impunity in the name of their protection.