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Europe: NGOs call on EU border agency to better protect human rights of migrants
17 October 2012

A group of new arrivals from Africa in a Malta detention centre. Malta, and other European destinations in the Mediterranean, has seen a drastic reduction in arrivals by sea over the past year or two. (Michael Edström/ UNHCR) December 2009
We expect the work of the forum to be based on practice. We're not just looking to agree on general principles on paper, but rather on concrete standards and mechanisms to guarantee the rights of migrants.
Brussels, 17 October 2012 – The EU border agency, Frontex, has finally put the human rights of migrants square on the agenda with the first meeting of the newly established Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights, held yesterday in Warsaw. The forum, made up of civil society organisations and EU institutions, selected JRS Europe to serve as co-chair with Frontex.

"We can't stress enough the importance of this forum. A considerable number of people have died at the external borders of the European Union. Frontex, as an EU agency, is bound to do all in its power to ensure the rights of migrants entering the EU are respected", said Stefan Kessler, the JRS Europe representative to the forum.

"This certainly has not been happening. We have seen a distinct lack of monitoring mechanisms to identify persons in need of protection, a failure to consider the human rights situation in transit countries to where intercepted migrants may be returned, and an absence of mechanisms to enable migrants to make a formal complaint against Frontex", added Mr Kessler.

In the recent past Frontex has come under pressure from NGOs, including JRS Europe, to ensure their operations are open to public scrutiny and guarantee the protection of migrant rights. These calls were intensified during 2011, when nearly 2,000 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

A case in point was the tragic death of 54 migrants on the journey from Libya to Italy in July this year. Their boat had reached Italian shores but was forced back on the open seas. The sole survivor, an Eritrean, told UN refugee agency officials that everyone on board had perished from dehydration during the 15-day ordeal. More than half of those who died were from Eritrea, a country known for serious human rights violations.

"Our intention is to enable this forum to become an effective and sustainable instrument for improving the human rights situation at the EU external borders, and in the context of Frontex-coordinated forced return operations. If the NGO inputs to the Consultative Forum are taken seriously, it has the capacity to lessen the likelihood of further tragedies", added Mr Kessler.

The Consultative Forum will work together with the newly appointed Frontex Fundamental Rights Officer, responsible for monitoring how migrant rights are safeguarded during border operations.

"We expect the work of the forum to be based on practice. We're not just looking to agree on general principles on paper, but rather on concrete standards and mechanisms to guarantee the rights of migrants", Mr Kessler concluded.


Contact information:

Philip Amaral
JRS Europe, Brussels
Advocacy and Communications Coordinator
T: +32 (0) 2 250 32 20

Notes to the editor:
  • The Jesuit Refugee Service works in more than 50 countries around the world. The organisation employs over 1,200 staff: lay, Jesuits and other religious to meet the education, health, social and other needs of approximately  700,000 refugees and IDPs, more than half of whom are women. Its services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.
  • JRS has offices in 14 European countries, including an EU affairs office (JRS Europe) based in Brussels. In Italy, JRS staff and volunteers serve hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees each week at their soup kitchen. In Malta, JRS meets with refugees and migrants in detention, provides legal and social support and provides care to people who arrive by boat.
  • In August 2012, JRS Europe sent a letter to the European Ombudsman pointing out key human rights concerns in Frontex operations.
  • JRS Europe is actively monitoring draft EU legislation on the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR). A key concern for JRS, among others, is that the legislation does not propose a specific search and rescue procedure, which is necessary to prevent further migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • JRS Europe sits on the Frontex Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights with the following NGOs: Amnesty International EU Office, Caritas Europa, the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, the International Catholic Migration Commission, and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants.
  • The JRS Europe representative to the forum, Mr Stefan Kessler, is available for interview.

Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
+39 06 69 868 468