EU plans joint ‘charter flights’ to deport immigrants
Posted by clandestina on 5 November 2009
5 November 2009
EU plans ‘charter flights’ to deport illegal immigrants
Published: Wednesday 4 November 2009
EU leaders have for the first time asked for the creation of joint charter flights to deport illegal immigrants. These flights would be financed by Frontex, the European agency in charge of the EU’s external borders.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been calling for a European ‘Immigration Pact’ since his 2007 election campaign. Migration subsequently became one of the top priorities of France’s EU presidency during the six-month period from July to December 2008 (see EurActiv LinksDossier).
After several recent incidents in both countries (EurActiv 01/09/09), France and Italy sent a letter to the Swedish EU Presidency requesting a debate on immigration issues at the European Council in Brussels (29-30 October).
Frontex is an EU agency tasked with coordinating operational cooperation between member states in the field of border security. Its headquarters are based in Warsaw, Poland. Frontex became operational in 2005.
Last week, the twenty-seven EU heads of state and government called for “the enhancement of the operational capacities of Frontex” and asked for “an examination of the possibility of regular chartering – financed by Frontex – of joint return flights,” according to the summit conclusions .
This decision, the first of its kind at EU level, was taken ten days after the sending back of three Afghans to their home country caused political controversy in France. Paris forged an agreement with London to share a charter flight, as the UK was also seeking to expel illegal immigrants to Kabul.
The French government tried to play down the event, pointing out that no debate had taken place in the media in Britain, where the public accepts such flights. The French authorities claimed that the three Afghans were from Kabul, but the Afghan government said they came from a more dangerous part of the country and so should not have been sent back.
The Council conclusions asked for a “determined European response based on firmness, solidarity and shared responsibility”. Although this request is somewhat vague, the Commission should nevertheless table proposals in early 2010 examining the possibility of financing joint regular return flights via Frontex.
The Council also asked for “clear rules of engagement for joint operations at sea”. This issue is of particular importance for Turkey and Libya, in whose waters migrants from Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa respectively are often found.
After the summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared: “Nobody could have imagined a few years ago that governments of left, right, South and North would agree on the principle that someone who does not respect the rules must be brought back home by plane, train or other means in a worthy manner. It represents considerable progress.”
Sarkozy said he wants the EU to go “further” and expressed his desire for the 27-member Union to “one day have its own border guards”.
French Immigration Minister Eric Besson described the proposal as “a decisive step towards building a true European border police”.
“States should find a balance between security and humanity,” wrote Jacques Barrot, European commissioner for justice, freedom and security, in Catholic newspaper La Croix. “Frontex can coordinate the returns, but we should above all take care that people are reintegrated in their country of origin.”
“We should look at the guarantees given to the deported immigrants,” French Socialist (S&D) MEP Sylvie Guillaume told EurActiv. “First of all, we need to be sure that the lives of the returned migrants are not in danger once they are back in their home country. Secondly, we should check that the immigrant has not asked for international protection. Thirdly, we should check that all the procedures are respected and that Frontex also respects the procedures enclosed in the European Pact on Immigration.”
Jean-Luc Bennahmias, vice-president of MoDem, the French centrist political party, denounced the idea as “outrageous”, arguing that “the European Union, as well as France, has a duty to welcome these people in great danger”.
“I really regret that the EU is working so hard on security measures while it is unable to find solutions to protect these people who are often lost on European territory and who are coming from war-torn countries,” lamented Pierre Henry, director-general of NGO France Terre d’Asile, on French radio station Europe 1.
Migreurop, an NGO bringing together European and African associations, denounced the EU’s “hypocrisy” on immigration and accused it of making its borders more dangerous by increasing checks.
“Rather than drawing the obvious consequences of the countless tragedies that today are part of everyday experience in migration to Europe, the European states are taking advantage of the situation to strengthen checks and thus make it more dangerous to cross borders,” complained Claire Rodier, an official for Migreurop in Brussels.