The Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) is a mechanism established so as to allow, in case of exceptional migratory pressure, rapid deployment of border guards on a European level.
Established in 2007 as part of the Agency’s founding mandate, RABIT operations have never been used up to now.
Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström went to Greece to see the deployment of the 175 EU border guards posted to the Greece-Turkey border and according to Malmström’s spokesman the operation will consist in providing support activities of various nature.
According to Frontex the objective of the RABIT operation deployed in the Greek-Turkish border is to:
“assist Greek border control authorities in securing the land border with Turkey from a heavy influx of irregular migration. This will entail the deployment of 175 specialist border control personnel from 24 European countries for 24 hour joint surveillance of the land border in the area between Orestiada and Alexandroupolis, as well as additional officers at the Border Crossing Point (BCP) at Kipi.
In addition, guest officers will also be stationed at Athens airport and the operation will be supported by Frontex’s Return Coordination Office in Athens with a view to enhancing Greece’s capacity to return irregular migrants found to be staying illegally on EU territory.
Additionally to surveillance and border control, Frontex will provide interviewers to assist in the screening of apprehended migrants to ascertain their nationality and identity, as well as debriefers to gather evidence on the involvement of people smuggling networks and trafficking rings as well as other relevant intelligence on cross border criminal activities.
Therefore Frontex not only will be involved in surveillance but also in intelligence activities, by having access to personal data of individuals, in ways that are not precisely identified.
Human rights concerns
Although during these activities officers deployed are supposed to respect human rights during these operations as required by, inter alia, Articles 18 and 19 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, several doubts have been raised in this regard, especially taking into consideration the fact that officers may carry service weapons.
Amnesty International has addressed important questions to the State Secretary in charge of Migration and Asylum Policy for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union which took place the 8 and 9 November 2010.
These questions refer to:
The kind of training that officers have attended
According to Frontex the officers involved in RABIT operations have a curriculum that includes among others knowledge related to
“the history of EU and Schengen EU legislation (special focus on Frontex Regulation, RABITs Regulation, Schengen Border Code) human rights (Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, Geneva Convention and New York Protocol, Common European Asylum System) practical policing (intercultural management, practical work on the border).”
It remains to be demonstrated whether the fact that officers have basic notions on the above, represent sufficient guarantee for a full respect of human rights, including the principle of non-refoulement, while operations are carried out.
The support that Frontex has received from experts in the field of international protection
No information has been provided in relation the support, if any, that Frontex has received from experts in the field of international protection when planning the RABIT operation.
In fact the decision to deploy a RABIT force follows the following procedure, as explained by Frontex:
“The decision on deployment of the Rapid Border Intervention Teams belongs to the Executive Director of Frontex. The final decision is preceded by a number of procedural steps:
a) Request of a Member State.
b) Information about the request from the Executive Director to the Management Board.
c) Assessment of the situation based on Frontex risk analyses and information provided by a Member State. The Executive Director may also send experts to the operational theatre in order to assess the situation.
d) Decision of the Executive Director (no later than five days from the date of the receipt of the request).
e) Communication on the decision to the requesting Member State and the Management Board.
f) If the decision is positive:
1. Preparation of the Operational Plan
2. Selection and composition of the teams to be sent
The kind of support that Greece has received in order to set up adequate reception facilities for all individuals whose status must be verified
So far no information has been found with the kind of support that Greece has received in order to set up adequate reception facilities for all individuals whose status must be verified.
The kind of involvement foreseen for humanitarian agencies and
Humanitarian agencies have requested to be involved in several occasions, so as to be able to monitor how Frontex has been carrying out its activities. However, none of these requests have been taken into consideration so far.
The existence of independent monitoring foreseen for these operation
Frontex explains that officers are subject to civil and criminal liability:
“While performing the tasks and exercising the powers, the members of the teams shall comply with Community law and the national law of the host Member State. While performing the tasks and exercising the powers, the members of the teams shall remain subject to the disciplinary measures of their home Member State. Where members of the teams are operating in a host Member State that Member State shall be liable in accordance with its national law for any damage caused by them during their operations.
Where such damage is caused by gross negligence or willful misconduct, the host Member State may approach the home Member State in order to have any sums it has paid to the victims or persons entitled on their behalf reimbursed by the home Member State.
Without prejudice to the exercise of its rights vis‐à‐vis third parties, each Member State shall waive all its claims against the host Member State or any other Member State for any damage it has sustained, except in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct. (…) ”
However, Frontex has provided no information related to whether it has foreseen any measure to carry out an effective, constant and independent monitoring of the RABIT operation.
These questions are of utmost importance given the difficulties that third country nationals have to face in accessing refugee protection in Greece and the JHA Council that takes place on Monday 8 and Tuesday 9 November represents the appropriate forum to discuss such issues, especially because one of the point of the agenda concern s the development of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), whose principles seems to be put increasingly under question by also but not only the Greek case.