[ 31. Dec 2007 ]

The African victims of FRONTEX in Warsaw

Grenzzaun als Abschottungsmassnahme

What's FRONTEX? FRONTEX is the French abbreviation for "frontières extérieures" (external borders). The full name says more: FRONTEX is the "European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union".


According to official government information, the agency, which started on 3 October 2005 is responsible for coordinating, supporting and training services responsible for the "security" of external borders. On the surface, it looks like just another EU super-structure, intended to support local agencies. However, both the specific aims of the agency (control of and blocking immigration) and its wider powers (semi-transparency, surveillance of immigrant communities, creating new specialised units, new databases) indicate that FRONTEX is worthy of significantly more attention than just any EU agency. At the same time - ironical given the facts, FRONTEX is the first common initiative of the widened EU and that's why at the request of Polish bureaucrats, the "symbolic" headquarters of FRONTEX is located in… Warsaw at the United Nations Roundabout (Rondo ONZ).

Is FRONTEX effective? To answer this question you need to go to the other end of the continent, to... the Canary Islands - at the other end of "Europe". It's on these Spanish islands just off the African coast the FRONTEX found a place to be active. It's about stopping mass migration of people from West Africa.

And here we come across informational chaos. Organisations supporting refugees estimate that with the arrival of FRONTEX, the rate of refugee deaths, among those who leave Africa by the sea, has grown - meaning by drowning, hunger and/or thirst. The statistics are under debate. While in 2006 the number of sea victims was estimated at about 6000, in 2007 with the wider actions of FRONTEX the numbers are worse. The official version of the agency's chief is "optimistic": the death toll for 2006 was "only"... 983 deaths. FRONTEX hasn't explained how it obtained this figure. It's known however, that while in 2006 about 31 thousand people got to the Canary Islands, in 2007 the number dropped to 12 000 (and in 2005, 4000). So the question arises: how did such a big and sudden drop in the number of immigrants occur given the big jump a year earlier - a drop which disappears into thin air according to the claimed low sea mortality declared by FRONTEX? Is the agency's explanation, that up to December 2007, 8258 people were rejected, enough of an explanation?

What really happened?

Take as an example the Agence France Presse :: report from 10 December 2007: "in the past weekend in various accidents in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic about 140 refugees perished (...) In the Atlantic near Marocco at least 50 people died as they were trying to get to the Canary Islands. According to the police, about 40 Africans from Senegal died due in other accidents as they were on their way to the Canaries."

It's also known that FRONTEX's communication regarding the death rate among refugees disagrees with the estimates of the Spanish special services, Guardia Civil and refugee support organisations. These both claim that there were not just a few hundred victims, but rather thousands. As the head of the Red Cross, :: Gerardo Mesa, explains, "the more they build fences, the greater the risks linked with getting past the controls. Immigrants have to plan greater and greater routes, their travel time becomes longer, because of the controls they remain further from the coast, they travel by night, in order to avoid being turned back."

In other words, the immigrants are forced to adapt to the new conditions established by FRONTEX. People are lost over a greater and greater area, their travels become more secretive, the number of routes and arrival points multiply. Refugees spend several times more time at sea and travel several times further. Departure points are even in Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. The distance that they have to travel more and more often is greater than 1000 km. As teh head of the African Immigrants' Association said, "fewer and fewer people reach the islands, beacuse more and more of them die on the way," "The travel used to take 2 to 5 days, now boats are at sea for 15 to 20 days".

At the same time, the deciders at FRONTEX must manage their agency's budget. Taking responsibility for the increasing death toll and disappearance of refugees by the border guards is not in their interests. As one of the agency's chiefs, :: Gil Arias, said: "We're worried that such rumours could snowball." ... A justified worry, since even refugee support organisations :: accuse them of "not wanting to see the victims."

FRONTEX's budget for 2008 will be doubled to 70 million euros.

This article was published first on 30. Dez 2007 @ ::
Sources :: (de) :: (pl)