Frontex and the pirate ship


  • Human rights monitors: new UK-Frontex agreement risks “axis of abuse”

    Charities on both sides of the English Channel have hit out at the new cooperation agreement between EU border agency Frontex and UK authorities signed in London today between UK officials and EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson; citing human rights scandals surrounding both organisations and an enforcement approach that is “flawed from conception.”

    - The “integrated border management” between countries described in today’s deal has had serious consequences. Frontex was recently found ( to be systematically sharing the coordinates of Mediterranean boats in distress with militias and pirates that return people crossing to conditions of abuse and violence.
    - This news came over a year on from the forced resignation of its former director (now a European Parliament candidate for the French far-right National Rally) over the agency’s complicity and cover-ups in Greece’s deadly border campaign, which was supposed to herald a culture change.
    - The number of UK border drownings has doubled in the past year, which rescue NGO Alarmphone says is linked to Anglo-French border policy ( UK and French authorities have faced allegations of serious shortcomings in responding to Channel shipwrecks.
    - Meanwhile the UK continues to attempt to undermine its own courts and international refugee law with its plans to outsource its asylum processes to Rwanda, and its abuse-ridden detention estate is widely documented.

    Quotes from organisations responding to the move can be found below.

    Michele LeVoy, Director of the Brussels-based Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), said:

    “Frontex is signing this new agreement with the UK border forces after countless reports of complicity by the EU agency in serious violence.”

    “The plan is flawed from conception. Tougher enforcement does not reduce irregular crossings; it only makes people’s journeys more dangerous. These resources should instead be used to provide safe routes and proper support for people seeking safety.”

    Mary Atkinson, Campaigns and Networks Manager at the London-based Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said:

    “People move – they always have and always will. It’s something we should welcome, not something which needs to be ‘tackled’ or ‘cracked down’ upon. We urgently need change so that people can move without risking – and too often losing – their lives.

    “This latest development is just more of the same tired old thinking. Making our borders more violent has never stopped those in need from coming here and all these measures will do is make it more dangerous. The government needs to wake up and accept that ‘deterrents’ never have – and never will – work. Instead, we need to listen to the evidence and develop policies that prioritise people’s safety and human rights.”

    A spokesperson for Calais-based Human Rights Observers said:

    “Frontex, the EU’s biggest agency, which squanders European taxpayers’ money by massively violating human rights, is preparing to land on the French-British border. With at least 28 people killed by the murderous border policies of France and the UK in 2023, the presence of Frontex would only increase the insecurity of people seeking protection.”

    Josephine Valeske at Europe-wide campaign Abolish Frontex said:

    “UK border policy has seen deaths by drowning double in the last year, and its government continues to insist on violating both UK and international law by deporting people seeking asylum to Rwanda.”

    “Frontex claims to have made progress on rights – but joining the UK for its new so-called “crackdown” on migration shows that nothing has changed. The EU cannot claim to defend human rights while Frontex continues to exist, and expand a European axis of abuse, at our expense.”

    #Frontex #Manche #La_Manche #migrations #réfugiés #contrôles_frontaliers #UK #Angleterre #accord #coopération #frontières #Calais #France

  • #Frontex and the pirate ship

    The EU’s border agency Frontex and the Maltese government are systematically sharing coordinates of refugee boats trying to escape Libya with a vessel operated by a militia linked to Russia, human trafficking, war crimes and smuggling.

    Tareq Bin Zeyad (TBZ) is one of the most dangerous militia groups in the world. It is run by Saddam Haftar, the powerful son of East Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar. The group has been operating a vessel, also called TBZ, in the Central Mediterranean since May, during which it has intercepted more than 1,000 people at sea off the coasts of Libya and Malta and returned them to Libya.

    Experts say the militia would not have been able to find the refugee boats without help from surveillance planes. We analysed several interceptions carried out by the TBZ boat in Maltese waters. These are known as ‘pullbacks’ and are illegal according to Maritime experts. We found that TBZ receives coordinates from EU planes in three ways:

    – Direct communication through a Frontex mayday alert. On 26 July, a Frontex plane issued a mayday (a radio alert to all vessels within range used in cases of immediate distress) in relation to a refugee boat. TBZ answered within minutes. Frontex only informed the nearby rescue authorities of Italy, Libya and Malta after issuing the mayday. They did not intervene. Frontex admitted the plane had to leave the area after an hour, leaving the fate of the refugees in the hands of a militia. It would take TBZ another six hours to reach the boat and drag people back to Libya.

    – Indirect communication through Tripoli. Frontex routinely shares refugee vessel coordinates with the Libyan authorities. In Frontex’s own system, they recorded that on 16 August the coordinates they shared with Tripoli were handed over to TBZ and led to an interception.

    – Direct communication with Malta’s Armed forces. On 2 August, a pilot with a Maltese accent was recorded giving coordinates to TBZ. Hours later, the TBZ vessel was spotted by NGOs near the coordinates. Malta’s armed forces did not deny the incident.

    Both Frontex and Malta say their aim when sharing the coordinates is to help people in distress.

    Responding to our questions on the 26 July mayday, Frontex said its experts decided to issue the alert because “the vessel was far away from the shoreline, it was overcrowded, and there was no life-saving equipment visible.”

    However, in all of the cases we analysed there were safer options: merchant ships were sailing nearby -– much closer than the TBZ ship – and NGO vessels or the Maltese or Italian coast guards could have assisted.

    According to international law expert Nora Markard “Frontex should have ensured that someone else took over the rescue after the distress call – for example one of the merchant ships, which would have been on site much faster anyway.”

    Markard added: “Frontex knows that this situation is more of a kidnapping than a rescue. You only have to imagine pirates announcing that they will deal with a distress case. That wouldn’t be right either.”

    The TBZ is described by the EU as a militia group affiliated with warlord Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army in confidential documents obtained by this investigation. We also found confidential reports showing that EU states are aware of the illicit nature of many of TBZ’s activities – including human trafficking. The group was described in an EU report as being supported by Russian private military group PCM-Wagner.

    Frontex declined to comment on whether TBZ was an appropriate partner.

    We obtained confidential EU documents, tracked position data from European surveillance aircraft and cargo ships, monitored social media of militia members on board the TBZ vessel, spoke to insider sources in EU and Libya institutions and reached out to linguistic experts to analyse a radio communication.

    We were able to speak to seven refugees who were dragged back to Libya by the TBZ and gave harrowing accounts of mistreatment.

    All the refugees we spoke to reported abuse at the hands of the militia, including torture, forced labour and ransom payment. One of them, Syrian Bassel Nahas*, described a three-week ordeal that he did not think he would survive.

    He said TBZ crew shaved his eyebrows and lashes and mutilated his head. “They beat us until our bodies turned black,” he said. “Then they threw our bodies in the water”.

    Bassel said he and other refugees were left in the Benghazi harbour next to the docked vessel for hours overnight, the salt burning their wounds, before they took him out at 4am and beat him more.

    Finally, Bassel recounts, the armed men made him wear an orange prisoner suit and stand against a wall. They opened fire, laughing as he collapsed. It was only when he regained consciousness and checked his body for blood that he realised the bullets hadn’t hit him.

    A Frontex drone was filming Bassel’s boat while it was intercepted by TBZ several days before, on 18 August. Bassel recounts the moment the militia approached: “We told them to leave us alone, that we had children and women on board. But they accused us of having weapons and drugs and opened fire on our boat.”

    Frontex claims that due to poor visibility on that day “detailed observations were challenging”. The same drone spotted Bassel’s vessel two days before its interception by TBZ and shared coordinates with Malta and Greece.

    Frontex declined to comment on whether its coordinates were used to intercept Bassel’s vessel and on allegations of torture and human rights abuses by TBZ.

    Jamal*, a Syrian from the southwestern province of Deraa, recalls that after being intercepted at sea on 25 May he was taken “to a big prison” where they were beaten “with sticks and iron” and all their belongings – “[their] passports, [their] cell phones” – were confiscated. “There was no water available in the prison. We drank in the bathroom. They fed us rice, soup or pasta in small quantities. We were held for 20 days by the Tariq bin Ziyad brigade,” he said.

    Several people report that they were forced to work to earn their freedom. “What this brigade did to us was not authorised, it was slavery. They sold us to businessmen so that we would work for them for free,” said Hasni, who was intercepted on 7 July by the TBZ.

    #Malte #frontières #contrôles_frontaliers #migrations #réfugiés #Russie #Libye #Tareq_Bin_Zeyad (#TBZ) #milices #collaboration #Saddam_Haftar #Khalifa_Haftar #Méditerranée #mer_Méditerranée #pull-backs #sauvetage (well...) #PCM-Wagner #drones