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We cannot ignore the use of push-backs in the Mediterranean

Monday, 28 December 2020
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.

Recent developments seem to indicate that Danish coast guards in the European border agency, FRONTEX, are being moved away from the most active migrant zones in the Mediterranean because they refuse to apply the severe method of push-backs to turn away migrant boats.

The use of the method must be discontinued, and the Danish government should take a closer look at how the Danish participation in FRONTEX can become as effective as possible.

Whenever there is a pause in the media flow, the pictures of refugees and migrants in Southern Europe crop up. It hurts to see them, and we must almost despairingly admit that there are no simple solutions when it comes to the so-called ‘push-backs’. The methods, that are being used in e.g. the Aegean Sea, where overcrowded rubber boats of migrants are pushed back to the shore they came from or even punctured – if the migrants do not succeed in using small and often unaccompanied children as leverage to gain access to the EU.

The method of push-backs is not only being applied at sea. We know that for a long time there have also been occurrences along the EU’s Eastern borders of desperate people attempting to gain access to the EU by claiming to be asylum seekers and being met by unconstitutional, unethical beatings and other mistreatments. This is caused by countries, such as Croatia and Hungary, being unwilling to grant them access, as it too often turns out that these are illegal immigrants.

We have a feeling that Danish border guards who participate in EU’s border agency, FRONTEX, have been moved further away from the most active migrant zones because they are not willing to follow Greek cost guards’ orders to push back.

Our feeling is the result of the fact that we have received internal working documents (Nikolaj Frederiksen is a FRONTEX employee) and newsletters from the deployed guards. Additionally, there are verified examples of a Danish boat, which refused to follow the Greek coast guard’s orders to push back a rubber boat, as it was deemed highly dangerous to the lives of the passengers. The corona pandemic has reduced the number of arrivals from Turkey and refugees and migrants have thus moved further north. At the same time, the Danish contribution is moved south to where there is less pressure. Newsletters have informed us that there is approximately 75 percent less work for the crews.

Danish coast guards are otherwise very well liked because they – like Danish soldiers on NATO-missions – are effective and good at translating strategy into operational results. Their great competences to properly deal with the conventions is unfortunately no longer as sought after.

Overall, we wish to propose that the method of push-backs should be recognized as a reality that must be discontinued. We cannot settle for outlawing what is already unconstitutional. It will be futile. There is a need for actions, and we would like to point out solutions that relatively easily can get border guards back on track in terms of treating illegal immigrants – which should of course not enter the EU – in a more humane and dignified way.

The solution is, among other, to have enough border guards. Simply put. Then there is a range of other tools, such as better organizing and a clearer structure for cooperation between the national border guards and FRONTEX. It must be legitimate to question whether it is the national border guard, who should make decisions about operations, or whether it is FRONTEX that do it best? After all, collectively EU citizens pay a lot – though not enough – to FRONTEX and thus should be able to see the money spent correctly and to create the most possible value.

Additionally, it is important that the border guards have the technologies needed to avoid confrontations with migrants in a panic in open sea where dangerous situations can easily occur.

In this regard ‘early warning’ technology is an important factor because it can ensure a better utilization of crew and resources. Simply put, it is about monitoring the coastline on the Turkish side so that boats of migrants can be identified before they set sail, and the Turkish coast guards can detain them in agreement with the arrangements between the EU and Turkey.

Such ‘early warning’ can happen with the use of radar and thermal binoculars, which are e.g. mounted on the SAR vehicles of the Danish coast guard, with unmanned balloons or drones. This is not a new or untested technology. For example, FRONTEX has tested it on Samos with great success, and it means especially that the capacity and the staff present can be utilized more effectively. This saves lives and strengthens the enforcement of sovereignty at the EU’s external borders.

The use of ‘early warning’ technologies assumes of course that Turkey and the North African countries agree to it in respect for the integrity of national territories. One can always speculate whether this will be the case. On the other hand, it is also a fact that these countries – and especially Turkey – have a notorious need for funds, and thus should be open to negotiations so that human lives are not unnecessarily put on the line in open sea.

Regardless of whether our feelings of the Danish section of the border agency, FRONTEX, being moved around following the logic of “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” is true or not it will not change the fact that ‘early warnings’ should become a part of the way FRONTEX works. We know that we are stirring up a hornets’ nest, which most politicians will only touch from very far away. However, as Danish conservatives and with the knowledge that there are actually practical solutions, which can be applied, we feel a duty to say something. So that people who rightfully or wrongfully meet the EU’s external borders are treated in accordance with the European and Christian respect for every person’s dignity and life.