Ehe EU’s border agency Frontex has been accused by campaigners and MEPs of investing in technology to monitor migrants from afar and skirt its responsibilities toward people in distress.
Frontex is already under fire after an investigation last week accused it of complicity in often dangerous pushbacks aimed at preventing asylum seekers crossing the Aegean Sea.
The agency has denied knowledge of, or involvement in, pushbacks. On Tuesday it launched an internal inquiry, pushed for by EU commissioner Ylva Johansson after reports in the Guardian, but said it had yet to find any evidence of violations, according to The Guardian.
Wim Zwijnenburg, who works on disarmament for the Dutch peace organization Pax, said EU policymakers had developed a “technology fetish” about watching its borders. “Are they putting the same amount of money into responding?” he said. “Are we going to now have more cameras in the sky to watch people drown in the Mediterranean?
“We have all these eyes in the sky, but we don’t have hands on the sea.”
Earlier this month Frontex awarded contracts to Airbus and Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems for military-grade drones to monitor “every sea craft involved in any form of irregular or illegal activities at sea”.
The EU has said air surveillance helps save lives. But in June a group of migrant rescue NGOs released a report claiming Europe’s air operations had led to tens of thousands of people being taken into custody by the Libyan coastguard, while the EU ended its own sea patrols.
“European actors are trying to withdraw their presence in the sea and, we would argue, to not abide by their duties,” said Kiri Santer, from Alarm Phone, one of the NGOs behind the report. “They continue to be present but from the air, so they can be aware of different migrant boats leaving from the Libyan shores and feed that information to the Libyan coastguard,” she said.
The new drone operations, expected to launch next year, will allow Frontex to view almost real-time surveillance from bases between Greece, Italy and Malta.