Fundamental Rights

Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, considers respect for and the protection of fundamental rights to be an unconditional and essential component of effective integrated border management. The agency strictly adheres to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as well as relevant international law.

Fundamental rights are integrated into the Frontex Codes of Conduct, the Common Core Curricula for border guards, and more specialised training, such as courses designed specifically for sea or land border surveillance officers or forced return monitors. These raise understanding of fundamental rights and enable officers to identify potential violations.

Before they are deployed, all Frontex staff, as well as board guards and members of other relevant authorities from Member States that participate in Frontex operations receive training on fundamental rights, access to international protection, and, where appropriate, search and rescue. Fundamental rights are always included in operational briefings for officers deployed by Frontex. In addition, safeguards and obligations for reporting potential violations of fundamental rights are integrated into all operational plans.

Following the 2011 amendments to the Frontex Regulation, a Fundamental Rights Officer and a Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights were created and embedded into Frontex’s structure.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Frontex responsible or in any way involved in asylum procedures?

Frontex is not involved in processing asylum claims. However, officers deployed by Frontex have to ensure access to asylum procedures of persons in need of international protection. According to the EU asylum acquis reflected in the Frontex Code of Conduct, all officers deployed by Frontex are obliged to refer the migrants seeking asylum to the national authorities and provide relevant information. Processing of asylum claims remains the exclusive responsibility of the national authorities of the individual member states of the European Union.

Does Frontex have any powers over the way the reception centres for migrants are run?
No, Member States are responsible for the management of the reception centres.

What is the difference between people smuggling and trafficking?
For most victims of human trafficking, including children, the moment of passing through an airport may be the only time they will come in contact with law enforcement officials before they disappear into the world of exploitation. The intelligence gathered by border guards during their encounters with travellers plays an important role in disrupting the activities of people smugglers and traffickers. One of the key challenges for the border guards lies in distinguishing between cases of people smuggling and cases of trafficking in human beings (THB). The smuggling of persons takes place when a person pays an individual or a criminal organisation for assistance in passing from one country to another. The transnational component in the smuggling of persons is essential, as it is normally considered a crime against the integrity of the borders of the state. Trafficking in human beings (THB) is a form of organised crime which aims at the exploitation of victims, who can face physical or mental abuse. In contrast to the smuggling of persons, a transnational component in the trafficking of human beings is not essential, as THB is normally considered a crime against the person. Trafficking can occur regardless of whether the victims are moved to another state or only from one place to another within the same state (internal trafficking). Although smuggling and trafficking are two different crimes, they may overlap. Many people have paid organised criminal groups to transport them into another country (smuggling), only to learn upon arrival that their passports have been taken away and the fee they must pay for being transported has increased. At this point, they are given the "option" of working in exploitative conditions to pay off their debt. They may also be subjected, for instance, to threats of violence against them or their families who remain in the country of origin.

How does Frontex ensure that the conduct of the staff deployed to its operations in in full respect of fundamental rights?
All persons deployed to an operation coordinated by Frontex, including its staff members, are bound by the Frontex Code of Conduct, which was drafted in close cooperation with UNHCR and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. This document includes a number of specific provisions on the respect of fundamental rights, such as the right to international protection and obligation to respect vulnerable groups. The code also lays out a set of standards that all persons involved in a joint operation coordinated by Frontex must follow. Any suspected violation of the provisions of the Frontex Code of Conduct must immediately be reported to Frontex. All persons participating in activities coordinated by Frontex are briefed prior to their engagement about their obligation to report any possible violations of the Frontex Code of Conduct and fundamental rights, and the possible sanctions taken by the Frontex Executive Director in case of the involvement of Frontex staff member.

What is the procedure in case of a suspected violation of the Frontex Code of Conduct?
The Code of Conduct obliges every officer who has reason to believe a provision of the code or fundamental rights was violated, to report this immediately to Frontex in form of a Serious Incident Report (SIR). The established procedure for dealing with such situations includes fact collection, assessment and final report to be prepared by an appointed SIR coordinator. It should be noted that Frontex does not have the power to conduct investigations on the territory of the EU Member States.

However, the involved Member States are requested to cooperate and inform Frontex about any follow-up regarding the investigation procedures and their result. In case of a violation of the Frontex Code of Conduct by a Frontex staff member, Frontex Executive Director takes adequate measures, which may include the immediate removal of the Frontex staff member from operational activity. If an officer deployed by Frontex is found to have violated the Frontex Code of Conduct, the agency may suspend the officer in question from an operation and refer him/her to the national authorities of the officer’s home Member State, who may take further disciplinary actions. If the violation is committed by the authorities of the Member State hosting the operation, possible measures range from sending a letter of concern through withdrawal of financial support for the operation to suspension or termination of the joint operation in case of serious or persistent violations of fundamental rights or international protection obligations.

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