When a joint return flight took off from Lille, France, bound for Albania in May it represented a new first for Frontex: though the organising member state was France, the escorts, the on board doctor and a fundamental rights officer were all Albanian. From the EU, the French head of operation, a Frontex coordinator as well as two independent fundamental rights monitors from Belgium were on board. The idea of officers from the destination countries escorting their own citizens forms the core of the “Collecting Joint Return Operations” programme, which seeks to equip non-EU countries with escorts to perform the return of their own citizens.
Self-Collection — A New Way of Returns2014-07-24
All the escorts on board the Lille flight as well as the escort leader responsible for the escort team, had just passed a landmark training course in Albania provided by Frontex. Some 25 escorts and six escort leaders from the Albanian Border Police, one Albanian fundamental rights observer and an Albanian doctor took part in the course between May 26 and 30 in the port city of Vlora. The course, developed by Frontex, has a firm focus on the fundamental rights of returnees but also covers the practical and theoretical aspects of the escort’s function.
The officers are trained for various scenarios they may encounter during every phase of a return flight: handover, boarding, seating procedures and in-flight conduct, including coercive measures and restraint. The rationale for the ‘collecting’ approach to joint returns, rather than common return operations conducted by escorts of EU member states, is two-fold:
the fact that escorts speak the same language as the returnees promotes communication and reduces the need for restraint. It is also more cost-effective.
The Vlora course was the first of its kind for a non EU-country, though further expansion of the “Collecting Joint Return Operations” programme is planned. Frontex has already coordinated two such flights organised by Germany to Georgia and a similar course in Tbilisi is under preparation.