Sea border controls: Frontex operations must abide by international rules

Sea border controls: Frontex operations must abide by international rules

Operations led by Frontex (the EU's agency for border controls) will have to search for and rescue boats in distress, according to a report backed today in Strasbourg by the S&D Group.

Under the new rules, EU sea-border patrols will have to fully comply with the “non-refoulement” principle, according to which individuals must not be returned to their country of origin or any other country where they could be at risk of persecution, torture or other serious harm.

Procedures are now clarified and will be incorporated in the Frontex operational plan. Border guards' actions will be subject to checks.

Moreover, criminal sanctions against shipmasters and fishermen who rescue migrants entering the EU irregularly would be lifted.

Following the vote, S&D vice-president Sylvie Guillaume said:

"It is no secret that although international rules set out a duty to render assistance to persons in distress at sea, the reality on the ground is different. It was therefore time for the EU to make some concrete contribution towards preventing the deaths of migrants attempting to reach Europe.

Clearly, this new regulation will not transform Frontex into a humanitarian agency, but within its mandate, it will provide the EU Agency with clear and binding rules on sea operations.

"The success or failure of this system will now depend on the way it is applied and its implementation must be closely monitored. But let us not fool ourselves! Frontex and border surveillance cannot be the alpha and omega of the European migration policy.

"As long as the EU and its member states prefer unilateral and short-term responses, and continue to be obsessed with security rather than adopt a global, responsible and long-term approach to migration, it is to be expected that migrants will keep resorting to ever more dangerous routes."

Joseph Weidenholdzer, S&D rapporteur on surveillance at sea borders, said:

"One in four refugees dies while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. It was necessary to act and to introduce binding rules. The saving of lives must be the first duty of the European Union. This new regulation is an important step forward for the protection of refugees

"Bearing in mind the latest tragedies in Lampedusa and in Ceuta, it was an absolute necessity to introduce mandatory rules on search and rescue measures at sea.

"The need for international protection has to be checked on a fair and individual basis.  We also eliminated the possibility of "pushbacks" on high sea. European units must respect European law even when operating in third countries".